Blog Directory CineVerse: October 2019

Give to me your leather, take from me my face...

Sunday, October 20, 2019

It's hard going through life with a name like Leatherface; it's even harder when nobody wants to come to your home to celebrate your birthday. CineVerse will make amends from 7-10 p.m. on October 22 (yes, that's a Tuesday night instead of a Wednesday night, due to a scheduling conflict at Oak View Center), when we conclude Shocktober Theater and commemorate the 45th anniversary of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (1974; 83 minutes), directed by Tobe Hooper. Plus: We'll check out the complete video of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (13 minutes), and watch a trailer reel preview of our November/December schedule.

Note that "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is a frightening and and disturbing film. However, be aware that the movie actually shows very little gore or blood; almost all of the violence in the film is suggested and not directly shown (the filmmakers were originally aiming for a PG rating, FYI). This film actually earns an 88% Certified Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is often ranked on many critical lists as one of the top 10 greatest horror films of all time.

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Happy birthday, Freddy

Thursday, October 17, 2019

The boom of slasher horror films in the 1980s, originally fueled by the catastrophic impact of John Carpenter's "Halloween" in 1978, was anchored by the runaway success of the "Nightmare on Elm Street" films featuring Freddy Krueger, which kicked off its franchise in 1984 with the first installment--directed by Wes Craven. Thirty-five years later, CineVerse celebrated this seminal fright flick with a viewing and discussion. Here's our "dream analysis":

What is unique, distinctive, memorable, or unexpected about this film?

  • It re-introduced (nearly 30 years after “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” first explored it) the frightening concept in mainstream cinema of being mortally afraid to sleep and dream—that you were most vulnerable in your unconscious state of slumber. This notion was as terrifying then as it is now, and it gives the film and character of Freddy Krueger a formidable power and uniquely terrifying characteristic compared to previous horror pictures and monsters. Writer/director Wes Craven’s inspiration here was a newspaper article about kids in Taiwan who actually died in their sleep following horrible nightmares.
  • It blurs the line between reality and fantasy, making you unsure which realm you’re seeing and what you can trust. There are scenes where we may believe that a character is awake but is actually dreaming, for example. The ending, in particular, questions everything you’ve watched for the previous 90 minutes—was it all a dream?
    • DVD Savant reviewer Glenn Erickson wrote: “Craven's refreshing Nightmare concept is new territory for the slasher genre. It also does a clever end-run around the issues of credibility and logic. Dreams can be as irrational and inconsistent as they wish, so there is no limit to what Freddy Krueger can and cannot do. Actions, effects, apparent demonic powers can be totally random -- in fact, the more erratic the better. Once asleep, Freddy's victims are at the mercy of a crazy non-logic. Time and place can switch about at will; cause and effect no longer applies…the lack of logic in Freddy's actions only makes him scarier. Freddy gleefully mutilates himself, slicing off his own fingers and gashing his chest to reveal a mass of worms inside. He makes his arms grow twenty feet long for one stalking scene. He can walk through walls and change reality at whim.”
  • Unlike previous slasher films in the horror genre, like “Halloween,” “Friday the 13th,” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” this presented a different kind of iconic horror character: one that could talk, change shape, and wasn’t as physically imposing as Michael Myers or Jason Vorhees.
  • Krueger also doesn’t chew the scenery here and command most of the attention, as he does in the Elm Street sequels; instead, he has less screen time than you may expect and remains more of a background character to the teenage leads. By showing him less and keeping his lines minimal, Freddy is arguably a more effectively frightening boogeyman in this film.
  • For all these reasons, according to Moria Reviews critic Richard Scheib, “A Nightmare on Elm Street may well have been the single most influential horror film of the 1980s. The film spun off a series of sequels – seven at current count (see below) and created a unique new boogie man in the character of Freddy Krueger, who appeared on T-shirts, lunchboxes, model kits, even became a poster pin-up figure. Furthermore, A Nightmare on Elm Street inspired a new genre of horror films that rested in a blurred dividing line between dream and reality and/or featured a boogie man returned from the grave to slice people up. The spawning of the A Nightmare on Elm Street films into a franchise gave New Line Cinema the financial clout to move from a minor studio into a major frontline player throughout the next decade.” Without the box-office receipts from the Freddy franchise in the 1980s and 1990s, New Line would not have made the “Lord of the Rings” films in the 2000s.

Themes at play in “A Nightmare on Elm Street”

  • The line between reality and imagination, between fact and fiction, is thin and mysterious.
  • Taboo behavior has dangerous consequences. This movie continues the slasher film tradition of punishing sexually active teenagers and preserving the “final girl” who outlives her peers by refraining from sex, drugs, and bad choices and demonstrating agency and resourcefulness.
  • The importance of staying awake, literally and figuratively. In this film, the parents appear to be asleep—meaning oblivious to the sins of their past and the dangers their children face—and prefer that blissfully ignorant state; by contrast, the children want to wake up and stay alert. They’re trying to break free from the sins of their parents and be aware of and open to the truth.
  • Overcoming your fears involves facing them head-on. Instead of waiting to become another victim like her friends, Nancy chooses to fight back and try to pull Freddy into her world to properly vanquish him.

Other movies that “A Nightmare on Elm Street” reminds us of

  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers
  • Home Alone
  • Dreamscape
  • Phantasm
  • Carrie (another horror classic with a shocking twist ending)
  • Slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th
  • It

Other films directed by Wes Craven

  • Last House on the Left
  • The Hills Have Eyes
  • The Serpent and the Rainbow
  • Scream, Scream 2, and Scream 3

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Believe it or not, Ripley's first film is 40 years old

Monday, October 14, 2019

For Cineversary podcast episode #16, host Erik Martin is joined by not one but two great guests: Mike Muncer, the UK-based film journalist, producer, and host of the Evolution of Horror podcast, as well as Andrea Subissati, the Toronto-based executive editor of Rue Morgue magazine and co-host of the long-running Faculty of Horror podcast. Together, they honor the 40th anniversary of "Alien" and examine why this horror/sci-fi classic is worth celebrating all these years later, its cultural impact and legacy, what we can learn from the picture today, how it has stood the test of time, and more.

To listen to this episode, click the "play button" on the embedded streaming player below. Or, you can stream, download or subscribe to the Cineversary podcast using Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Anchor, Breaker, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Google Play Music, Overcast, Pocket Casts, PodBean, RadioPublic, Spotify, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

Learn more about the Cineversary podcast at tinyurl.com/cineversarypodcast and email show comments or suggestions to cineversegroup@gmail.com.

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A Nightmare on 110th Street

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Freddy's having a birthday party, and you're invited! On October 16, Shocktober Theater part 3 convenes at Cineversary, when we'll honor the 35th anniversary of “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984; 91 minutes), directed by Wes Craven. Plus: Have a few laughs with select Treehouse of Horror segments from “The Simpsons."

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Seeing dead people with 20/20 vision

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Nineteen ninety-nine was a notably strong one for cinema, both at the box office and in terms of critical appraisal. Highlights of that year included "The Matrix," "American Beauty," "Being John Malkovitch," "Magnolia," "Toy Story 2," and "The Insider." It was also the year that "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" ruled the box-office. But coming in second place in ticket sales was a true underdog that captured the world's attention for a spell: M. Night Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense." Twenty years later, we analyzed what makes this film so exceptional, especially as a horror film and psychological thriller. Here's a roundup of our CineVerse discussion yesterday:

Why is this movie worth celebrating all these years later? Why does it still matter, and how has it stood the test of time?

  • It’s an intentionally quiet movie that uses silence and subtlety to ratchet up the suspense.
  • It’s an unconventionally intimate movie—the filmmakers keep the camera close to the actors.
  • “The Sixth Sense” combines the best elements of horror, drama, and spirituality—a film that works on all three levels.
  • It doesn’t resort to cheap or quick thrills, jump scares, or grandiose special effects tor CGI o scare you.
  • The roles of Cole and Malcolm are written as very intelligent—the performances avoid sentimental cuteness or silliness, too.
  • Unlike other psychological horror movies, we know that what Cole sees is real, which makes the film more satisfying, less frustrating, and much more terrifying.
  • The richly detailed, brooding, slowly revealing, psychological approach makes it a lot smarter and more effective than a lot of thrillers/horror movies.

In what ways do you think this film was influential on cinema and popular culture or set trends?

  • It made M. Night Shyamalan a household name for a while—a name quickly synonymous with suspense and twist endings; for a short time, Shyamalan was considered an heir apparent to Hitchcock and Spielberg.
  • It made shocking twists hip again. Arguably, movie audiences hadn’t had a major “don’t-tell-anyone” kind of twist ending like this since 1992’s “The Crying Game” or 1995’s “The Usual Suspects.” This yen for twist endings likely inspired subsequent movies to ape that formula, including “Fight Club,” “Memento,” “The Devil’s Backbone,” “The Others,” “The Ring,” “The Prestige,” “Shutter Island,” and “Room 1408.”
  • That surprise twist ending prompted many moviegoers to see the movie multiple times, often to observe how the filmmakers covered their tracks; you pay attention to the details on repeat viewings to make sure the director doesn’t cheat.
  • Like “The Blair Witch Project” that same year, “The Sixth Sense” became a word-of-mouth sensation, a film that people talked about strongly and widely well before social media was around to spread the word, helping the movie earn $673 million worldwide on a budget of only $40 million.

What’s the moral of the story here? What themes or messages are explored in “The Sixth Sense”?

  • The key to existence and fulfillment is communication.
  • We have to confront our fears head-on and not be intimidated by them.
  • We have to pay attention to the small details in life or else we miss the big picture (consider that Malcolm doesn’t realize he’s dead because he overlooks the small things).

What elements from this movie have aged well, and what elements are showing some wrinkles?

  • You could make a case that the twist ending conceit doesn’t hold up well or is now to the movie’s detriment, as virtually everyone knows that (spoiler!) Bruce Willis’ character is a ghost, making the film less shocking or effective.
  • But you could say the same thing about a lot of classic films that employ startling twists, like “Psycho”; we still watch and treasure “Psycho” and this film because they are expertly directed, well-acted, and well written. 

This is a birthday celebration, after all, and birthdays are all about presents. Except it’s the fans who continue to get the gifts. What is this film’s greatest gift to viewers?

  • The casting and performances. 
    • Here, we have an amazingly credible, sensitive, and haunting portrayal by Haley Joel Osment—quite an achievement for an 11-year-old.
    • Bruce Willis is cast against his action hero type; he avoids his cliché smirk and rugged macho tendencies; it’s a subdued, melancholy, quiet role.
    • Toni Collette as Cole’s mom pulls off a great acting stint as a truly caring but smart, insightful American mom, despite the fact that she’s Australian.

Do you think this movie will still be widely watched and considered relevant in another 20 years? Why or why not?

  • While fewer people talk about “The Sixth Sense” today than they did 20 years ago, it’s hard to argue that the film’s power and quality have been diminished over two decades. It was a quality film then and now; hence, it should be revered as such 20 years from this time. 
  • However, because Shyamalan’s reputation and prestige has suffered so much in the last 15 years due to a string of poorly received pictures he directed, and assuming he doesn’t redeem that reputation over the next 20 years, it’s possible that “The Sixth Sense” may not enjoy as classic or venerated a status in the future as it would have if the director was more respected. It’s likely to be considered an anomaly or one-off in a filmography many will dismiss as subpar.

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Celluloid ghosts

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Shocktober Theater and Cineversary coalesce once again at CineVerse on October 9, when we'll celebrate the 20th birthday of one of the all-time great ghost story movies, “The Sixth Sense” (1999; 107 minutes), directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Plus: Enjoy the Three Stooges short film “Spook Louder” (17 minutes).

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Sins of the father visited upon the son

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Many fans and critics regard "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein" as the crown jewels in Universal's classic monster cycle that spans approximately 1931 to 1948. But one strong entry in the canon that oven gets overlooked is "Son of Frankenstein" from 1939, which celebrates an 80th anniversary this year. We took this specimen into the CineVerse laboratory last night and documented the following not-so-clinical observations:


What did you find interesting, impressive or even curious about Son of Frankenstein?

  • This outing has a more impressive cast than many of the other classic Universal horror films, including Basil Rathbone, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lionel Atwell – all known for their work in horror. With the help of this cast, we get a more character-driven story than any of the other monster movies made by Universal.
  • It’s actually the longest film in the Universal horror cycle of the 1930s and 40s, which includes dozens of movies.
  • It rejuvenated the horror genre for Universal, which released its first wave of classic horror pictures between 1931 in 1936, but abandoned them after the studio was sold and diminishing return on profits. This new entry in 1939 marked the second wave of classic Universal horror, which continued through 1948.
  • The art direction and set design are fascinating.
    • Reviewer Nate Yapp wrote: “The stark, oversized sets seem to be an Americanization of the Expressionist tropes of German silent cinema. Shadows pour over everything, imprinting an atmosphere of doom upon the action. The feeling engendered is unnerving because it bears the weight of inevitability.”
  • The characterization of Wolf is thought-provoking as well.
    • Blogger Tim Brayton wrote that Wolf is “a rather deeper and more complex figure than his father; he is not motivated by a God complex, at least not at first, but by the simple wish to live a comfortable life and to make the lives of those around him better. At the same time, he has an understandable desire for people to think of him not as the son of a psychopath, but as the heir to a rich tradition of scientific curiosity. It is worth pointing out that Wolf does not make a monster; he attempts to rehabilitate his father's monster…He is, pure and simple, out to show that world that Heinrich Frankenstein was right.”
  • This is arguably Bela Lugosi’s strongest role and performance, playing a colorful side character who steals a lot of the scenes he is in. Lugosi is unforgettable as Dracula in that earlier movie, but many fans and critics consider his work in this film to be superior.
  • The Frankenstein monster is a more diminished character in this outing, taking a backseat to the battle between Wolf, Ygor, and the police inspector. This was Karloff’s third and last performance as the monster. Here, he is much less sympathetic, relatable, and nuanced. The monster has also mysteriously lost the ability to speak, which he gained in the previous outing, The Bride of Frankenstein.

What themes or major messages can you identify in Son of Frankenstein?

  • The sins of the father visited upon the son
  • The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Consider that this film covers three generations of Frankenstein males – Wolf, Wolf’s deceased father, and Wolf’s son.
  • The inescapability of destiny and fate
  • Scientific overreach and the hubris of man trying to play God
  • Science versus superstition – as exemplified by Wolf and the villagers, respectively
  • A triangle of intrigue – with Wolf (representing science run amok), Ygor (exemplifying irrepressible evil), and the police inspector (characterizing the fragility of man compromised by that science and evil) standing as points on the triangle and the Frankenstein monster between them.

This movie also makes us think of what other films?

  • Young Frankenstein
  • The earlier and later Frankenstein films by Universal
  • The Mummy and The Invisible Man, two other Universal thrillers that share the theme of the dangers of science in man meddling in God’s territory

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