Saturday, October 21, 2017

Stubs - I Walked With a Zombie


I Walked With a Zombie (1943) Starring: James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway, Edith Barrett Directed by Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Curt Siodmak, Ardel Wray. Produced by Val Lewton. Run Time: 69 minutes. USA Black and White. Horror.

Horror, like any genre, has its variants. We tend to think of the classic horror films as monster movies, Universal’s Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), The Mummy (1932) and The Wolf Man (1941) come to mind, as well The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922) and The Golem (1915) before that. But there are other kinds, too.

While modern horror tends to go in more for gore, there are other films that are more psychological in nature and even more environmental. I Walked With a Zombie falls into these latter categories.

With the coming of Halloween, the name Val Lewton comes up more and more in film history circles. Lewton, born in 1904 in Yalta, then part of Imperial Russia, now Ukraine, as Vladimir Ivanovich Leventon, would become best known for his work in horror films produced at RKO. After immigrating from Russia in 1909 with his mother, they would settle in suburban Port Chester, NY and change their name to Lewton.

A writer by trade, Lewton attended journalism school at Columbia University and would work for a time in MGM’s publicity office in New York City. He quit that position with the success of his 1932 novel No Bed of Her Own, which later that year would be made into No Man of Her Own (1932) with Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. But after his next three novels were not as successful, he ended up working on a screen treatment for Taras Bulba for producer David O. Selznick at MGM and later when Selznick went independent.

Even though that film was never made, Lewton continued to work with Selznick for the next decade. It was Lewton that originally warned Selznick against making Gone With the Wind (1939), feeling that Margaret Mitchell's 1936 novel was unfilmable. He would later work, uncredited, on the screenplay and even be credited with the scene where the camera pulls back to reveal hundreds of wounded soldiers at the Atlanta depot, one of that film's most famous scenes.

After ten years, Lewton wanted to break out on his own and took a job at RKO studios heading a unit that was assigned to make low-budget horror films for the studio based on titles supplied by his supervisors. The first film from this unit was Cat People (1942), which on a budget of $134,000 would make $535,000 in domestic box office and a $183,000 profit, so it was considered a success. 

That film was directed by Jacques Tourneur, a Frenchman Lewton had met on the set of A Tale of Two Cities (1935), a Selznick produced film for MGM. Tourneur was a second unit director, and he and Lewton both receive credit for their work on the Revolutionary War sequence of that film.

Tourneur, who had begun his career as an editor in his native France, had come to Hollywood in 1934 under contract to MGM. He would later make his directorial debut with They All Come Out (1939), but would be dropped by the studio in 1941. He would direct Doctors Don’t Tell (1941) at RKO before reteaming with Lewton.

Following the success of Cat People, RKO executives had another title in mind, I Walked With a Zombie. Officially, the film was to be based on an article written by Inez Wallace for American Weekly Magazine, but Lewton encouraged his writers to use Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre to give the story a narrative structure and to do research on Haitian voodoo practices.

The screenwriters included Curt Siodmak, who two years before had written the screenplay for The Wolf Man, and Ardel Wray, who had come through RKO's Young Writers' Project. I Walked with a Zombie would be Wray’s first screenplay. While she would continue to write for Lewton’s group, she would leave Hollywood in 1945 when she gave birth to her daughter.

British actress Anna Lee was originally cast in the film as female lead Betsy. Lee, who had previously appeared in such films as Seven Sinners (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and Flying Tigers (1942), had to pull out due to a previous commitment.

In her place, Frances Dee was cast. Dee had been acting in films since Playboy of Paris (1930), a musical opposite Maurice Chevalier. She would also appear in An American Tragedy (1931) as well as Of Human Bondage (1934) to name a few. The wife of actor Joel McCrea, Dee’s last film was Mister Scoutmaster (1953).

I Walked With a Zombie went into production on October 26, 1942, and would complete filming November 19, 1943. One note about Zombies. Zombies had been in films since Victor Halperin's White Zombie (1932). The term Zombie means the undead recreated through the re-animation of a human corpse. The word comes from Haitian folklore, which may explain the Caribbean setting for many zombie films like I Walked with a Zombie.

A difference should be drawn between Haitian zombies and the ones that have permeated fiction since George A. Romero's seminal film Night of the Living Dead (1968). Romero turned zombies into living monsters who crave human flesh and even eating human brains.

The film opens with narration by Betsy Connell (Frances Dee), who recounts that she once "walked with a zombie". In the distance we see her walking with a rather tall person, whom we assume is the zombie in question.

The film opens with a long shot of Betsy (Frances Dee) walking with a zombie.

A Canadian nurse, Betsy is hired to be the personal nurse to Jessica Holland (Christine Gordon) by her husband Paul Holland (Tom Conway), the owner of a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Saint Sebastian. It is winter in Canada and the thought of beaches and palm trees sweetens the prospects.

The thought of palm trees and beaches seals the deal for Betsy

Soon, Betsy is on board a ship from Antigua, where she is thinking about how beautiful everything looks when Paul interrupts her thoughts and introduces himself. He tells her that everything is not beautiful, but rather full of death and decay.

Paul Holland (Tom Conway) tells Betsy that everything she knows is wrong when it comes to the Caribbean.

Betsy is taken from the boat to the Holland home, referred to by the locals as Fort Holland by carriage. The coachman (Clinton Rosemond) educates Betsy telling her that Saint Sebastian is populated by the descendants of black Africans brought to the island aboard slave ships to work the sugar plantations by early descendants of the Hollands. He refers to a statue in the Holland’s courtyard as “T-Misery”; the statue is actually the masthead of the first slave ship to arrive on the island. The island residents are still somewhat bitter about the circumstances that brought them there, though many are still employed at the Sugar plantation.

On the ride to the plantation, Betsy gets a brief history lesson from the coachman (Clinton Rosemond).
Despite the misery around her, Betsy is still excited about her new surroundings. That night at dinner, Betsy is joined by Wesley Rand (James Ellison), Paul’s half-brother. Unlike Paul, who has a British accent, Wesley is more American, having been schooled there. Wesley explains that the boys share the same mother, who runs the village dispensary. Paul, though, is the son of a Holland and therefore the owner of the plantation, while Wesley is merely an employee. It is clear from the way he talks about Paul that Wesley resents him. Towards the end of their dinner, Paul arrives and Wesley retreats to the mill where he is needed. Paul is taking medicine to Jessica and even though Betsy is anxious to meet her, Paul tells her that she can start work the next day.

At dinner, Betsy is entertained by Paul's half-brother Wesley Rand (James Ellison).

After dinner, Betsy is already in bed when the sounds of a woman sobbing wake her. She follows the sounds, which are coming from across the courtyard in a stone tower.

The sound of a woman sobbing wakes Betsy.

Still following the sobbing, Betsy ascends the stairs, where she is cornered by the cataleptic figure in white, who turns out to be Jessica.

Betsy follows the sobbing up a dark windy stairway.

She has not yet met her patient and is frightened when Jessica does not respond. Betsy’s screams for help are responded to by Paul and several of the servants. Paul is disappointed in Betsy and takes Jessica back to bed.

Betsy is frightened when Jessica (Christine Gordon) does not respond.

After they’re gone, we learn that the sobs were coming from Alma (Theresa Harris, miscredited as Teresa Harris). As part of a tradition, Alma is sobbing because of the birth of a friend's child. Because of the misery of their lives, a new birth is greeted with crying by the natives.

Turns out it was Alma (Theresa Harris) who was sobbing.

The next morning, Betsy is awoken by Alma, who has brought her breakfast in bed. Alma has been taking care of Jessica and wants to take care of Betsy, too, and work with her.

Paul is upset with Betsy for what he sees as her childish behavior and warns her not to get involved with the island’s superstitions.

Betsy meets with Jessica's physician, Dr. Maxwell (James Bell), who explains that his patient's zombie-like condition was caused by an incurable tropical fever. There is no hope of ever bringing her back to normal, which Betsy doesn’t like.

Dr. Maxwell (James Bell) tells Betsy there is nothing that can be done for Jessica.

On Betsy's day off, she encounters Wesley, who offers to give her a tour of the village. That tour seems to start and end at a local café, where Wesley drinks himself into a stupor. A calypso singer (Sir Lancelot) sings a song that is about Paul and Wesley's rivalry for Jessica's love. Hearing the song upsets Wesley and the singer, who had been unaware of his presence, apologizes to Wesley.

A calypso singer (Sir Lancelot) is upset that no one has told him Wesley was in the cafe.

But later, after Wesley has passed out, the singer plays the song almost as a dare. Betsy tries to rouse Wesley, but can’t wake him. Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett) appears out of the shadows and comes to Betsy’s aid. She arranges to have Wesley put on his horse and then walks Betsy back to Fort Holland, deciding to stay the night.

Later, with Wesley passed out, the calypso singer repeats his song about the
Holland family rivalry. Mrs. Rand (Edith Barrett), in the background, arrives to help.

Over dinner, while Paul and Wesley exchange harsh words, in the distance, drums of the voodoo ritual play.

Later, Betsy is drawn to Paul’s piano playing. Alone, he apologizes to her for bringing her to the island to take care of his wife. After their encounter, Betsy realizes that she’s in love with Paul and wants to make him happy by bringing his wife back to him.

Betsy realizes she's in love with Paul after hearing him play the piano.

She approaches Dr. Maxwell about an experimental treatment using insulin shock to cure Jessica. Everyone agrees to give it a try, but it fails.

Betsy takes Jessica to Home Fort for a voodoo ceremony.

Since medicine has failed her, Betsy listens to Alma, who suggests trying voodoo. Betsy seeks out Mrs. Rand for advice and she tries hard to dissuade her from taking that approach. However, Betsy decides to give it a try and with Alma’s help, she takes Jessica to the “Home Fort” where voodoo is practiced. Alma draws her a map and gives her patches to wear that will let them get past Carre Four (Darby Jones), the tall zombie-like figure that guards the roads to Home Fort.

Carre Four (Darby Jones) guards the way to Home Fort.

They watch the ritualistic dancing before Betsy approaches the shack where the voodoo priest resides. She is taken inside, where she learns that the priest is none other than Mrs. Rand. Mrs. Rand explains that she has been using the natives’ belief in voodoo to get them to accept modern medical practices. She tells Betsy that Jessica can never be cured.

The voodoo ceremony features ritualistic dancing.

But Jessica’s presence at Home Fort has inflamed the natives and they intensify their ritual's intent on bringing Jessica back. Hearing the drums, Paul tells Betsy that he doesn’t want to demean and abuse her the way he had Jessica and begs her to return to Canada, but Betsy refuses.

That night, though, Betsy is awakened by the formidable presence of Carre Four, who has entered the house. Fearful, she runs to Paul’s room for help and Mrs. Rand orders Carre Four away from the Holland complex and he obeys.

The next day, Maxwell informs the family that the native unrest has caused an inquest to be opened into Jessica’s mysterious illness. Mrs. Rand admits to everyone that Jessica is not sick, but a zombie put into that state by Mrs. Rand. The curse was the only way she could think of to prevent Jessica from leaving Paul for Wesley.

Mrs. Rand confesses that she put a curse on Jessica, resulting in her zombie-like state.

However, Maxwell refuses to accept that explanation, insisting Jessica is a victim of a tropical fever. He says that since Jessica never died, there is no way she could be a zombie. He leaves without knowing that at one time, Jessica had fallen into a coma, allowing her to become one of the undead.
Later that night, the beating drums call Jessica out of the house and to the front gates. Wesley notices and opens the gates for her, taking an arrow from the statue of T-Misery before following after her.

T-Misery, the statue in the courtyard of Fort Holland, is the masthead from a slave ship.

At Home Fort, the voodoo ritual is calling her towards them, using a doll on a string to symbolize her. And then the worshippers stab the doll with a pin.

The voodoo ceremony calls Jessica to them in the form of the doll.

Mimicking the ritual, Wesley thrusts the arrow into Jessica. Followed by Carre Four, Wesley carries her body into the sea, where he drowns.

After killing her, Wesley takes Jessica's body out into the sea, where he drowns.

Later, while spearfishing at night, the natives discover their dead bodies floating in the surf and carry them back to Fort Holland.

Carre Four carries Jessica's lifeless body back to Fort Holland.

I Walked With a Zombie is more atmospheric than terrifying, so in some ways it barely qualifies as a horror film. At the time of its release, April 30, 1943, it was even referred to as “dull” in a review in the New York Times, which is never a good thing. Over time, however, its reputation has done nothing but increase. In 2007, what was considered dull in 1943 was named the fifth best zombie film of all time by Stylus magazine, an online music and film magazine.

None of the leads really distinguish themselves. James Ellison, Frances Dee, Tom Conway and Edith Barrett are good, but not great in their roles. I’m not sure if I really buy Betsy falling in love with Paul and her motivation then to bring Jessica out of her comatose state. Edith Barrett is good, but her part has a little more to it than the others; a proponent of modern medicine who uses voodoo to get her viewpoint across to the natives.

Two supporting actors, Christine Gordon as Jessica Holland and Darby Jones as Carre Four, say nothing throughout the film and pretty much just stare forward with blank expressionless faces. This is Gordon’s first and perhaps best-known performance, which may tell you something about her acting chops. Gordon was out of films by 1946, her last appearance being in the remake Of Human Bondage (1946). Darby Jones was pretty much stereotyped by Hollywood. Given the era in which he worked, the 1930s through the 50s, meant that he played a lot of African natives, slaves, and zombies, many times not receiving credit.

Jacques Tourneur would continue to work for Lewton, directing The Leopard Man (1943) for the same RKO unit. When he was eventually elevated by the studio to direct A-films, he would helm one of the best film noirs ever made, Out of the Past (1947), and then Berlin Express (1948), shot against the backdrop of war-torn Allied-occupied Germany.

If you’re looking for a really scary horror film for Halloween, then you should look elsewhere. I’m not even sure that real fans of zombie flicks would get much out of it either, since, as stated before, this is not your modern zombie film. No brains are eaten or even drooled over here.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Inside + Limbo Double Pack


Limbo is a game I knew about back when it released in 2010, however I had never actually played it for whatever reason. By contrast, I knew absolutely nothing about Inside, even when it first released in 2016, so I did not know that it had been done by the same developer as Limbo, Playdead, until the release of the recent Inside + Limbo Double Pack for PS4 and Xbox One. Though I saw this as an opportunity to finally see what the fuss was about with Limbo, my lack of knowledge on them sharing a developer led to me playing Inside first, as it had gotten top billing on the package. Either way, from playing the PS4 version of the collection, I found it overall to be a rather interesting experience.

Both games follow a young-looking boy on a mysterious quest, which is all I can really say about the stories of both games without possibly spoiling it. I can say, though, that the way each game drops you into the present situation is actually pretty engaging, as it makes you want to try and figure out what’s going on the further you get into it. Whether or not it pays off is entirely subjective, however the minimalist presentation of each game does keep you guessing until the very end (and possibly even afterwards).

The gameplay is similar across both games, utilizing minimal controls to solve environmental puzzles to move forward; this also gives the game more accessibility akin to a Thatgamecompany game, only with a much less family-friendly tone (Limbo and Inside are each rated T and M respectively by the ESRB). Both games also use a rather minimal soundtrack, which helps to highlight key moments as they come up and build up an atmosphere that the player can get sucked into. As an additional feature between games, there’s also some secret collectibles that the game gives you no warning about and can reward you with a different ending for finding them all. I managed to miss all of the collectibles in Inside and stumbled upon some in Limbo, however I don’t feel like scouring the games again to find all of them.

Though there are many similarities between both games, let’s look at the little things that make them stand apart from each other.


The graphical style of Inside contrasts with the previously-released Limbo, presenting itself in 2.5D with bright colors. The general aesthetic is rather minimalist, taking on a uniquely blocky appearance that is pleasing to the eye. The deaths the player character can face for messing up can get still get rather graphic, much like its predecessor Limbo, however the fact that the gore is largely bloodless does not stop it from earning its M rating. The fact that the setting is more 3-dimensional leads to some stunning backdrops, however the details found within them are what add to the game’s own sense of atmosphere and overall experience.


By contrast with Inside, Limbo employs an even more minimalist 2D style, with silhouettes very heavily employed to give the game its very iconic look. So iconic is this style, in fact, that electronic musician Deadmau5 (himself a gamer) used it as inspiration for the music video to his song “The Veldt”, the lyrics to which draw from the Ray Bradbury story of the same name (incidentally, due to the timing of the music video’s release, it is dedicated to Bradbury’s memory). Though it, too, has some gruesome death animations (I even jumped the first few times it happened), the game has a T rating and features a complete lack of blood. I would draw a comparison to the film Logan, in that the Logan Noir version somehow appears less bloody despite being the exact same movie, which can be attributed to the fact the Noir version is in black and white as opposed to color.

On their own, Limbo and Inside are both interesting games to play at least once, as each are good at creating an atmosphere with great visuals. Though their gameplay styles have some general similarities, they do enough in other areas to stand out from each other and immerse you in their respective worlds. As each one can be purchased individually, the collection doesn’t provide anything new to existing fans aside from owning both games on a physical disc. Notably, the game takes a page from Journey Collector’s Edition and allows you to install each game separately from the disc, so those that have only played one of the games on consoles can simply install and play whatever they haven’t already played. Those that have not played either game will get a great deal out of this collection, especially if they can get it at a discount. If you are new to either game, it really is best to go in blind and experience their stories for yourself firsthand.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Stubs - Predator


Predator (1987) Starring: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Richard Chaves, Jesse Ventura. Directed by: John McTiernan. Screenplay by Jim Thomas and John Thomas. Produced by Lawrence Gordon, Joel Silver, John Davis. Run Time: 107 minutes. USA. Color. Action, Adventure, Horror, Science Fiction

Quickly name a film from the 1980s that would feature two future governors. Hopefully, you know that answer from reading the credits, but Predator has this distinction. After making his name as pro-fitness and pro-after school care, Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to maneuver himself into becoming the Governor of California as part of the recall of Gray Davis in 2003. But former pro wrestler Jesse Ventura would beat him into the governor’s mansion, this one in Minnesota in 1998.

That bar bet settled, it’s a shame that the film wasn’t better than Predator.

The movie starts off with the science fiction angle. A spacecraft flying near Earth releases a bright object which enters the atmosphere.

Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) arrives ahead of his team.

Cut to the Val Verde jungle. Major Alan "Dutch" Schaefer (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and his team — mercenary Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), tracker Billy Sole (Sonny Landham), gunner Blaine Cooper (Jesse Ventura), explosives expert Jorge "Poncho" Ramírez (Richard Chaves), and radio operator Rick Hawkins (Shane Black), are hired by a former commando and friend of Dutch’s, Colonel George Dillon (Carl Weathers) to rescue an official being held hostage by insurgents after the helicopter he was in crashes. Also present is Dutch’s old commander, General Phillips (R. G. Armstrong), who has instigated the meeting but does little else.

Dutch is initially happy to see a former colleague, Colonel George Dillon (Carl Weathers).

Who this official being held and who he works for is as nebulous as the insurgents. But Dutch takes the job before finding out that Dillon will accompany them.

The commandos are choppered behind enemy lines.

The team is choppered in and left behind enemy lines. They soon discover the wreckage of a chopper as well as three skinned corpses. No one can figure out why the rebels would do something like that. From one of the dog tags left behind, Dutch identifies them as members of a U.S. Army Special Forces unit he knew personally. So now the mission takes on a personal dimension.

What's left of a U.S. Army Special Forces unit.

When they reach the insurgent camp, even though they’re outnumbered, Dutch’s team is too much for the rebels and they kill everyone, save one, including a Soviet intelligence officer who has been searching through captured CIA documents. Dillon, when confronted by Dutch, admits that the three bodies they found had been sent in weeks earlier in a failed rescue attempt. The mission, Dillon confirms, was not so much to rescue an official as to get back the stolen intelligence.

Dutch's men destroy the insurgent camp.

The lone survivor of the guerilla is a woman named Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) whom Dillon insists on bringing back to base to interrogate. Dutch tells him that she is Dillon’s responsibility as the team proceeds to the extraction point.

Dutch's team is followed by the Predator using thermal imaging.

While Dutch’s team is ignorant of the fact they’re being tracked using thermal imaging, the audience is not.

Rick Hawkins (Shane Black) catches Anna, but in doing so becomes the first victim of the Predator.

Seeing her opportunity, Anna escapes and is chased down by Hawkins, but soon afterward, they are ambushed by the Creature. Anna is spared, but Hawkins is taken away.

Anna (Elpidia Carrillo) is spared by the Creature.

Dutch organizes a search party for him, during which Blaine is killed by a blast from the Creature’s plasma weapon.

Blaine (Jesse Ventura) is killed by a blast from the Creature's plasma weapon.

Enraged by the death of his friend, Mac initiates a firefight, laying down a massive amount of ammunition, still managing only to wound the Creature.

Dutch, Mac Elliot (Bill Duke), and tracker Billy Sole (Sonny
Landham) lay down a barrage of bullets at the Predator. 

The Creature bleeds a luminescent green fluid.

The Predator bleeds green luminescent fluid.

When the unit regroups, Anna, who can suddenly speak English, tells them that this is really nothing new to the jungle. She tells them that their stalker is a myth to locals, called "el demonio que hace trofeos de los hombres", or the demon who makes trophies of men.

Everyone is on eggshells knowing that the Creature is out there. During his watch, Mac mistakes a wild pig for the Creature and kills it. In the confusion, Blaine’s body is stolen by the Creature. Dutch figures out that their pursuer is using the trees to get around.

The next morning, the effort to bring the Creature out in the open fails, leaving Poncho injured. Mac, followed by Dillon, set out to engage the Creature, but they are both outwitted and pay the price. Later it catches up to the others, killing Billy and Poncho, but only wounding Dutch.


Dillon is no match for the Creature in one-on-one combat.

Dutch realizes that the Creature does not target unarmed prey, reasoning that there is no sport in that for it. He sends Anna, unarmed, to the extradition point with the now famous “Get to the Chopper!” line.

The Creature, still invisible to Dutch, chases him into the river, causing its cloaking device to malfunction, allowing Dutch to finally see it. Dutch crawls out of the river into a bank of mud and is surprised when the Creature, only feet away, doesn’t see or sense him. Dutch realizes that the mud is somehow masking him from the Creature’s sensors.

Dutch realizes that the mud interferes with the Predator's sensors.

The Creature skins his kill and removes the spinal columns from their bodies. While he’s doing that, Dutch lays down a series of traps and weapons, once again trying to draw the Creature out, this time using a war cry. While Dutch manages to disable the Creature’s cloaking device and inflict minor injuries, he is still cornered.

For some reason, the Creature, which is bigger and stronger than Dutch, decides to fight him mano y mano and removes his garb, including his weapons, to fight him. Dutch is still no match for the Creature’s strength but still manages to lure it into a trap, where he crushes it under a heavy counterweight.

The Predator chooses to fight Dutch in hand-to-hand combat.

As the Creature lays dying, Dutch can’t seem to bring himself to kill it. Instead, he asks “What the hell are you?” The Creature, which can mimic human voices, replies in a garble and while Dutch watches, activates a self-destruct weapon and laughs. Running away, Dutch manages to jump out of the way just in time as the bomb explodes.

The next morning, Dutch is rescued by his commander and finds Anna already on the copter. And the world is rid of the Predator until Predator 2 (1990) and then it’s LAPD officer Lieutenant Michael "Mike" R. Harrigan’s (Danny Glover) problem.

The film plays, somewhat unsuccessfully, with the idea of misdirection. As a rescue mission in the jungle turns into the Most Dangerous Game. This is something Psycho (1960) did so well, turning a story about embezzlement into a horror story; though the title of the film was a dead giveaway that there was going to be more to the story. Here, the surprise is destroyed in the beginning when we see that something has landed on Earth from out of this world. The attack of the Predator is to be expected, rather than come as a surprise of genius story-telling.

The pre-Governator Arnold is a likable movie star, though the word actor seems a little inappropriate. He is always playing the same sort of character during the 1980s, strong and deadly and usually with some sort of catchphrase. While “Get to the Chopper!” might not be as strong as say “I’ll be Back”, it is what passes here in Predator.

The group as a whole is less winning that its leader. Jesse Ventura is big and strong, but like Arnold, that is his role in films. Dutch’s men have enough testosterone between them for hundreds of teenage boys. The jokes are sexual, juvenile and lame. Hate to say it, they’re not a likable bunch, which works against audience sympathy as they are killed one by one. Perhaps if we cared a little more about them, then their deaths would have had more impact. Instead, their deaths are sort of a relief as they stand between Dutch and the ultimate showdown. The motivation for the Creature to decide to battle in hand-to-hand combat doesn’t seem right either. Few mindless hunters take it to that step with their prey and that’s all we are to this Creature, sport.

Some of the actors, Bill Duke in particular, seem to have trained at the Nicolas Cage school of scenery chewing. Subtlety is not one of the strong suits of these actors and while that is not required in most action films, it is always appreciated when it does happen. Elpidia Carrillo is only okay. There really is not much for her to do but run in this film.

The Predator (Kevin Peter Hall) is nightmare fuel.

The Creature, the Predator (played by Kevin Peter Hall), has an interesting design, though you have to wonder what evolutionary crisis his planet went through to end up with a mouth like he has. (Pretty and handsome must not be terms on his home planet.) While I get the comparison between the Predator and the stereotypical hunter, who sees anything below him on the animal scale as fodder for a trophy room, I don’t know of any hunters that have self-destruction kits strapped to themselves.

The fisticuffs seem a bit forced, one of those moments in a movie that doesn’t seem to be organic as much as if he doesn’t there is no way to kill him sorts of things. When you can see that come about, you know the film has flaws. In this case, big ones.

Made on a budget of about $18 million, the film would go on to gross about $100 million, so quality is not a criterion for success. As mentioned above, it was successful enough to spawn a sequel. But 20th Century Fox didn’t stop there. No, they combined two space monsters with Alien vs. Predator (2004); Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) before making Predators (2010). Not knowing when to stop, there is going to be The Predator planned for 2018 with a budget at about $50 million more than the original made.

The question, is, of course, whether or not I would recommend this film. If you’re a fan of Arnold’s and you haven’t seen Predator, then you should. It is somewhat typical for Schwarzenegger's sort of films from this period when he was mostly muscle with an accent. If you’re looking for a great film, then you should continue your hunt.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stubs - Loving Vincent


Loving Vincent (2017) Starring Douglas Booth, Robert Gulaczyk, Jerome Flynn, Saoirse Ronan, Helen McCrory, Chris O'Dowd, John Sessions, Eleanor Tomlinson, Aidan Turner. Directed by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman. Screenplay by Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Jacek Dehnel. Produced by Hugh Welchman, Ivan Mactaggart, Sean Bobbitt Run Time: 91 minutes. Polish/UK Color/BW Animated, Live Action, Biography

On July 27, 1890, at age 37, Vincent Van Gogh, a painter of little renown during his lifetime, shot himself in the chest with a 7mm Lefaucheux à broche revolver. There were no known witnesses, but the incident took place either in a cornfield or a barn. Mortally wounded, Van Gogh managed to make it back to his room, where he would die approximately 30 hours later. He would be visited by two doctors, Doctor Mazery and Doctor Gachet. While neither man was a surgeon, they made Van Gogh as comfortable as they could. Vincent's brother Theo came to visit, but before too long, Van Gogh grew weak and died.

These are the events that propel Loving Vincent, a new film with a very new technique. While originally shot as a live-action film, every frame has been painted over in oil in the impressionist style of Van Gogh.

From the film's website, showing the post-production of turning
 the live-action film into 65,000 oil painted frames.

A year after Van Gogh's death, the postmaster of Saint-Rémy, Joseph Roulin (Chris Dowd), discovers a letter that the late artist had sent to his brother and sends his son, Armand Roulin (Douglas Booth), to find Theo, not realizing the brother is also dead. Armand, who starts out grudgingly, turns into a detective as he researches the last weeks of the great artist's life.

While that might sound like an interesting endeavor on its own, it is the presentation that separates this film from anything else you have seen on the silver screen before. Armand's search takes you into the world of Van Gogh, which includes his work. We are treated to re-enactments of some of Van Gogh's more famous works, the subjects of which also include several of the main characters in this film. The colors are as vivid of Van Gogh's paintings, with black-and-white being used to simulate flashbacks detailing more about Van Gogh's life.

The actor Jerome Flynn playing Dr. Gachet, Van Gogh's painting
 of the doctor and his ultimate portrayal in the film.

A lot of experimental films are only about the experimental quality of their productions at the expense of film basics like story and acting. Thankfully, this film is both experimental without losing the basics that make it an interesting film. The story is intriguing. Even if you're not an art lover, Van Gogh's life and death have been made into movies before, probably the most memorable being Lust for Life (1956) starring Kirk Douglas. This film sort of works as a companion piece to that film, taking up the story when that one ends.

An example showing the film's transition from live action to oil painting.

The acting is also very good. More than voice work, the actors are actually the live models on which the painting is added. It's as if they were parts of a continuous painting that comes to life.  Douglas Booth, an actor I had never heard of before, gives a very strong performance as the son who becomes intrigued with an artist he doesn't really know. Other standouts include Eleanor Tomlinson as Adeline Ravoux, the daughter of the innkeeper where the artist died. Saoirse Ronan plays Marguerite Gachet, not only the subject of one of Van Gogh's paintings, but also a possible companion to the older artist. Jerome Flynn plays her father, Dr. Gachet, the last doctor Van Gogh sought treatment from after leaving the Hospital in Arles supposedly cured. Everyone feels that they had some hand in the artist's decision to commit suicide.

Douglas Booth gives a strong performance as Armand Roulin.

The sad news is that Loving Vincent is not an easy film to see. As with most art house films, it is not available in wide release. But the film is really worth seeking out. If you're not fortunate enough to see it in on a big screen, then you should be looking for it when it becomes available on home video or your favorite streaming service.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Stubs - Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)


Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) Starring: Kevin McCarthy, Dana Wynter, Larry Gates, King Donovan, Carolyn Jones, Jean Willes. Directed by Don Siegel. Screenplay by Daniel Mainwaring. Based on the serial story The Body Snatchers by Jack Finney in Collier's (26 Nov-24 Dec 1954). Produced by Walter Wanger. Runtime: 80. USA Black and White. Science Fiction. Horror

People tend to read a lot into the movies from the 1950s, some of which may be true and some of which is simply looking for a deeper meaning than was intended by the filmmakers. For the most part, creative people want to make art and sometimes it’s politically motivated and other times it’s just to tell a good story. Case in point, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). This is one of those films that is sometimes read as being Anti-McCarthy since those who don’t conform are persecuted. It can also be read as Anti-Communist since individuality is not appreciated. It can probably also be seen in today’s commentary as Anti-Illegal Immigration since no doubt these invaders were only looking for a better life for themselves.

In his autobiography, I Thought We Were Making Movies, Not History, Walter Mirisch, the head of production at Allied Artists, where the film was made, addressed that: "People began to read meanings into pictures that were never intended. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an example of that. I remember reading a magazine article arguing that the picture was intended as an allegory about the communist infiltration of America. From personal knowledge, neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple."

The story comes from the pages of Collier’s magazine, a long-defunct publication, which popularized the short story. Jack Finney was a frequent contributor and serialized what would become the novel, The Body Snatchers in its pages from November 26 to December 24, 1954. His story was set in Mill Valley, California which was invaded by seeds that drifted to Earth from space.

Enter Walter Wanger, a Hollywood producer with credits going back to The Sheik (1921) and The Cocoanuts (1929), Stagecoach (1939), Foreign Correspondent (1940). His production company Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc., would produce the film for Allied Artists Pictures, a unit of Monogram Pictures that specialized in films with bigger budgets, run by Mirisch. The unit’s first production It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947), cost more than $1,200,000 at a time when the average Monogram picture cost about $90,000. The budget for this film was set somewhere in between at $455,000, though the studio would ask the producer to cut it significantly. The title would be changed to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, so as not to be confused with RKO's 1945 production of Robert Louis Stevenson's The Body Snatcher, a film I had never heard of until researching this article.

Casting would go through many choices before the leads were settled. Wanger considered Gig Young, Dick Powell, Joseph Cotton amongst others, before casting Richard Kiley, who had starred in a previous Allied Artist film The Phoenix City Story (1955). But Kiley turned the role down. Kevin McCarthy, who had previously worked with Siegel before, was offered the role.

Likewise, the search for McCarthy’s co-star/love-interest went through many possibilities before casting was settled. Anne Bancroft, Donna Reed, Kim Hunter and Vera Miles were all considered before Dana Wynter was cast as Becky.

The film went into production on March 23, 1955, and principal photography would wrap about a month later on April 27. The original intention was to shoot the film on location, but that proved to be too expensive, so they settled on several locations in the Hollywood Hills and Bronson Canyon among them, the corner of Beachwood Canyon Drive and Belden. Other shooting sites included Glendale, Hollywood, Los Feliz, the San Fernando Country Club, Chatsworth railway station and Mulholland Drive at the Hollywood Freeway. In all, 38 locations were used with only four days devoted to interior shots.

The film was released on February 5, 1956, with some theaters displaying papier-mâché pods as a promotion. The film would gross about $3 million worldwide in its initial release.

Dr. Bassett (Richard Deacon) (l) and Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell) (r)
consult about Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) (c)

Invasion opens in California. Psychologist Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell) has been brought in, at the request of Dr. Harvey Bassett (Richard Deacon), to consult on a recently admitted mental patient, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy). Dr. Miles seems highly agitated, but the doctors agree to listen to his story.

The train station at Santa Mira where Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy) lives.

He takes them back to a few days prior, when his nurse, Sally (Jean Willes), had requested he come home from a medical conference he had been attending. She tells him that since he’d been gone, his waiting room had been filled with patients waiting to see him. She hints that even though nothing seems to have changed in Santa Mira, something was afoot.

Sally (Jean Willes), Miles' nurse, has requested that he come early from a medical conference.

Perhaps as an example of this, Miles narrowly avoids running over young Jimmy Grimaldi (Bobby Clark), who has darted out into the street running away from his grandmother (Beatrice Maude). Grandmother explains to Miles that Jimmy is really afraid to go to school. Miles notices that her husband’s once successful fruit and vegetable stand is closed. She explains that her husband has simply lost interest.

A young boy, Jimmy Grimaldi (Bobby Clark), running away from his grandmother (Beatrice Maude).

When they get to his office, there are a few patients, which Miles treats. He is about to sneak out for lunch when Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), his former girlfriend, shows up in the waiting room. She has returned recently from England and wants to ask him about her cousin Wilma (Virginia Christine). Wilma insists that someone is impersonating her Uncle Ira.

Miles and Becky talk. They are both recently divorced, she had just been to Reno. As he walks her outside, Miles stops a policeman whom Sally said had been in to see him, but he now says he’s fine.

Near the end of the day, Grandma brings in Jimmy, who claims that someone is pretending to be his mother. After speaking with him, Miles is intrigued by the similarities between his story and Wilma’s. He then goes to see Wilma and after examining Ira is convinced there is nothing wrong with him. But Wilma insists that while the man has the memories of Ira, he lacks any emotion. Miles refers Wilma to see Dr. Danny Kauffman (Larry Gates), a psychologist.

Miles treats Jimmy with nurse Sally's help.

That evening, Miles and Becky go out together and encounter Kauffman, who is with another doctor. Both of these doctors believe that mass hysteria has stricken the people of Santa Mira.

Miles and Becky go to a once-popular restaurant and find it is empty of customers and according to the proprietor it has been for the last two weeks.

An emergency call from Jack (King Donovan) and Theodora "Teddy" Belicec (Carolyn Jones) prompts Miles and Becky to visit them. In their home is a mysterious, half-formed body without facial lines or fingerprints, which they found lying on their billiard table. Teddy points out that the body is about the right height and build as Jack; he’s startled and drops a glass, cutting his hand.

Becky (Dana Wynter) and Miles go to Jack (King Donovan)
and Teddy (Carolyn Jones) because of an emergency, a replica of Jack.

Miles suggests the couple watch the body until morning and then takes Becky home. They find her father (Kenneth Patterson) is working late in the basement, which seems odd. During the night, as Jack dozes, Teddy notices that his cut hand appears on the body in the same place as Jack’s. Screaming, Teddy wakes up Jack and the two flee to Miles’ house. Miles calls Kauffman and then, on premonition, drives over to Becky’s house.

Miles rushes over to Becky's house in an attempt to save her.

When he breaks into the basement, he finds a double for her forming. He rushes upstairs and rescues the real Becky and takes her back to his house.

Later, Jack, Miles, and Kauffman go to the Belicecs and discover that the body is gone.

Returning to Becky’s, they find her double missing as well. Becky’s father has in the meantime called the police and Police Chief Nick Grivett (Ralph Dumke) responds. When Miles tells him about the mysterious body at Jack's house, Nick informs him that it belonged to a murder victim later found burning on a haystack.

Dr. Danny Kauffman (Larry Gates), a psychologist, is called
over, but by the time he gets there Jack's replica is gone.

The next morning, Miles hears noises in his basement, but it turns out to only be Charlie (Sam Peckinpah), who is a meter reader. Wilma approaches Miles when she sees him and tells him that after a good night’s sleep, she feels better and withdraws her allegations about Ira. When Miles leaves, Wilma goes back into her business, Becky’s father is waiting for her inside. She tells him that Becky is at Miles'. At Miles’ office, Grandma and Jimmy come inform him that the boy is back to normal, prompting Miles to wonder why the strange ailments have mysteriously disappeared.

 Wilma (Virginia Christine) tries to convince Miles there are no longer any problems.

Later, at Miles’ house, Miles, Becky, and the Belicecs are cooking steaks when they discover four more pods growing in his greenhouse. They watch horrified as one body pops out of a pod foaming.

There appear to be pods in Miles' greenhouse.

Miles surmises that the pods create a double for a person and replace them when they fall asleep. He tries to call the FBI in Los Angeles, but an emotionless telephone operator claims the lines are busy. (This is back in the days when long distance calls were a big thing.) Miles, who is getting more anxious, asks her to try the Sacramento office, but once again she tells him the lines are down.

A replica of Miles pops out of the pod in his greenhouse.

While they wait, the four friends try to figure out where these pods originated and how they take over their victim’s mind and memories. As they talk, one of the pods starts to resemble Teddy. Miles, sensing the immediate danger they’re in, urges Jack to take the women to safety, but Becky insists on staying with him. Miles tries to keep the operator busy for as long as possible before he kills the pods and escapes with Becky.

They stop at a gas station before leaving town. While Miles goes to try Sally’s number, the attendant borrows the keys to unlock the gas cap but also slips two pods into the trunk. But Miles is suspicious and pulls over not far away and discovers them. He pulls out the pods and sets them on fire.

Miles torches the pods that have been placed in his trunk.

He still insists on trying to rescue Sally and they drive over to her house. However, when Miles looks in the window he learns that she too has been changed. When he tries to leave, he is confronted by Nick, who, too has been changed, but Miles manages to escape.

Miles looks in through Sally's window and sees plans being discussed.

Knowing there is an all-points bulletin out for them, they ditch the car and hide out in Miles’ office, thinking that is where Jack will come back with help.

The next morning, they watch out the window as farmers distribute pods that are destined for other towns.

Pods being shipped out.

When Jack and Kauffman do appear, both transformed, and place pods in the office for Miles and Becky, Kauffman very calmly explains that the pods are the solution to humanity’s problems. The pods, he promises, reproduce an exact likeness of any form and painlessly absorbs its mind. When the being awakens, it is into an “untroubled world.” When Becky and Miles argue that they prefer to have love, Kauffman points out that life is much simpler without it. The two are then left alone so that the process can take place.

Jack and Dr. Kauffman wait in Miles' office for Miles and Becky to transform.

But instead, they trick Jack and Kauffman, and Miles injects them with sedatives. When Nick rushes in to subdue Miles, Becky injects him.

Miles injects Kauffman and Jack with a sedative.

With the men subdued, the two flee. Even though Miles tells Becky to hide their emotions, pretending to have been changed, Becky shrieks when a truck almost hits a dog, giving them away.

Miles and Becky about to step outside trying to act normal.

The two make a run for it up a hill and into an old mining tunnel, all the while being pursued by a mob of townspeople. Miles finds a place for them to hide and they outfox the mob. Exhausted, they fight sleep and wait until nightfall.

Exhausted, Miles carries Becky into a cave to hide.

They are pleased to hear the sound of beautiful music coming from outside the cave. The music gives them hope that others have survived. Miles leaves Becky to investigate and learns the music is coming from a radio in a truck that is being loaded with more pods.

Miles runs into traffic to try and warn the world.

Returning to Becky, he realizes that she has been changed, having fallen asleep in his brief absence.
Panicking, Miles runs toward the highway, but the townspeople, alerted by Becky, let Miles escape, presuming that no one will believe his story. Down on the highway, the traffic is slow and Miles runs about screaming warnings, but no one takes him seriously, assuming he’s either drunk or crazy. He jumps on the back of a transport truck and sees that it is filled with seed pods. Miles yells, “They’re here already! You’re next!”

Both doctors are skeptical of Miles' story.

Back at the hospital, Miles ends his tale, but neither of the doctors believe him, at least not at first. Then, an ambulance driver (Robert Osterloh) delivers casualties to the hospital from a highway accident. He tells the doctors that victims were buried under large pods that fell from a truck. Hearing that the truck originated in Santa Mira, the doctors call the FBI and tell the police to stop any trucks from leaving Santa Mira. Miles looks relieved that he is now believed and action is being taken.

When an ambulance driver confirms Miles' story, Drs. Bassett
and Hill finally take action and Miles can relax. 

The framing story was an add-on, shot on September 16, 1955, at the insistence of Allied which thought the original ending was too pessimistic. Neither Wanger or Siegel wanted to make the change, but both relented. Still, Siegel is quoted as saying, “the film was nearly ruined by those in charge at Allied Artists who added a preface and ending that I don't like."

This is one of those films that has risen in status as time has gone on. The film has been remade three times, one that I have seen, Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) directed by Philip Kaufman starring Donald Sutherland, and two I haven’t seen, Body Snatchers (1993) directed by Abel Ferrara, and The Invasion (2007) directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel and starring Nicole Kidman. There is also Invasion of the Bunny Snatchers (1992), a Looney Tunes parody directed by Greg Ford starring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, and Porky Pig. If the 1978 version is any indication, remakes are sort of like impersonations, the sincerest form of flattery without being quite as good.

A lot of horror films in the 1950s deal with the fear of the different and the unknown. Every day in America was another step into the unknown, as a former ally, now bitter rival, the USSR, had the atomic bomb and people feared that the end could come at any minute. Why else practice Duck and Cover drills in schools? America might be in a post-war heyday, but the fear that some outside force could make it go away in an instant was probably palpable to many.

You can read in all of the politics you want to, but the film works as it was intended, to scare audiences. This is an example of the horror genre before gore was the standard. This is what they call psychological horror. Knowing that everything looks the same but is at the same time radically different. Humans devoid of emotions are not capable of creating; this new world might be more stable, but it would definitely be dull as dishwater. If you think there’s nothing to watch on TV now, just imagine if Pod people were in control. And wouldn’t that be scary?

Jokes aside, the film works as Miles’ world literally closes in around him. He is the last normal person left and if he doesn’t survive and warn the rest of the world it’s over for the planet as nothing seems to stop these pods. Miles’ motivations are somewhat heroic, as it would be all too easy just to give up. While Kevin McCarthy sort of has B-movie actor written all over him, he really rises to the occasion here. It is hard to imagine someone else in this role.

Dana Wynter is cute as Becky, but she doesn’t necessarily bring more to the role than anyone else might have. Women in these films from this time are more hangers-on than partners or heroes, which says more about Hollywood and American tastes than anything else.

The film is filled with a lot of character actors at the top of their games, including: Richard Deacon, better known for his role as Mel Cooley on The Dick Van Dyke Show; Carolyn Jones, Morticia Addams on The Addams Family; Virginia Christine, best remembers as Mrs. Olson in a long-running series of Folger Coffee ads; Whit Bissell, General Heywood Kirk in TV’s Time Tunnel and Station Manager Lurry in the famous and over-rated “Trouble with Tribbles” episode of the original Star Trek TV series; and King Donovan, an actor turned director for one picture Promises! Promises! (1963), the first sound film to feature a mainstream star, Jayne Mansfield, in the nude. Larry Gates, who played Dr. Kaufman, is another recognizable face who appeared in numerous roles throughout his career.

One face that might not be as recognizable as his name is Sam Peckinpah, who plays Charlie in the film. He would go on to direct such films as The Wild Bunch (1969), Straw Dogs (1971), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974). He was a dialogue coach on the film and had worked on the screenplay without receiving credit.

Future director Sam Peckinpah makes a brief appearance as Charlie the meter reader.

While the film did not start out to be a classic, it certainly ended up as one. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not over the top horrifying, but it works and continues to scare to this day. Not great but good cinema. If you’re a fan of 1950’s science fiction then you should definitely see this film, as it is one of the better examples of the genre from that time.

Be sure to check out other Horror films in our Horror Films Review Hub.