Sunday, July 24, 2011

teen night

About as deep as twee-pop, The Myth of the American Sleepover follows an array of suburban Michigan teens navigating crushes, parties, and first kisses.  Even if the film lacked an emotional payoff and reminded me too often of American Eagle ads, in his debut, David Robert Mitchell impressively blends multiple story lines together and confidently establishes a quietly dreamy, late-summer mood.  The spare dialogue and earnest, awkward performances (especially an expressive Claire Sloma as a short-haired, pierced lipped girl with a lifeguard longing) work well.  If the experience of Sofia Coppola's Somewhere and Marie Antoinette was about the claustrophobia of the privileged, Mitchell's Myth is a much deeper meditation on the claustrophobia of teenagerdom and the difficulty to communicate desire.  Mitchell aptly makes small, uncomplicated moments seem grand (Sloma's decision over kissing her lifeguard on a water slide is one of the most poignant scenes). The film's most interesting character, and perhaps the easiest one for adult audiences to relate to, is an older brother of one of the teens who suddenly becomes obsessed with linking up with younger twins from his high school theater glory days.  The idea that "he can't have both" is a nicely drawn conceit.

There is something wistful about the movie and the way it left me, especially since it doesn't really seem to pertain to today's Facebook, text and chat obsessed culture (diaries, letters, and writing phone numbers on hands, arms, and scraps of paper are all largely symbolic motifs).  I was often perturbed by the restless, long haired girls in the row in front of me, intermittently in the glow of their cell phones but they added to the viewing by contrasting what this film pines for. ***

Interview with the film's director David Robert Mitchell in Black Book

Thursday, July 14, 2011

trilogy of terrors: 3 films by dan curtis

Karen Black strikes the right tone in 1975's TV movie Trilogy of Terror, directed by campy, goth horror trailblazer Dan Curtis (Dark Shadows).  "Amelia" is the best known of the three, based upon a Richard Matheson story "Prey" (originally published in Playboy), the title character buys a Zuni fetish doll with hopes of impressing her anthropologist boyfriend.  Soon enough she is viciously attacked by the unrelenting doll in her  apartment in a gleefully wicked sequence.  The ending is fun as well.  

It's easy to see how "Amelia" was seared in childhood memories of anyone watching in '75.  The other stories are much more mild, hokey affairs with predictable twists but worth a watch for Karen Black's impressive range: she plays a geeky, tightly-wound teacher in "Julie" and dueling twins in "Millicent and Therese."  With her strange, compelling eyes, and ability to change the register in her voice on a whim, only Black seems suited for all these parts.  She has said that the film's subsequent notoriety and cult status typecast-ed her for horror: "I think this little movie took my life and put it on a path that it didn't even belong in." **1/2

The directorial work of Curtis is much more hackneyed in his 1996 sequel.  Lysette Anthony, not as beguiling as Karen Black, takes on three of the main roles.  In "The Graveyard Rats," she plays a cold wife, who, along with her lover (Geraint Wyn Davies), plots her husband's death.  It's a slow build-up (with a references to noir like Kiss of Death) and it takes too long for the giant, animatronic rats to make their entrance. 

For those looking for a good laugh, the last entry, a sub-par sequel to "Amelia," "He Who Kills" features the Zuni doll on-the-loose in a museum after-hours, assaulting a scientist (Anthony). 

Curtis' '96 version of "Bobby" (also based upon a Matheson story) features a way too over-the-top Anthony mourning her dead son and bringing him back from the sea.  The theatrics, ridiculous mansion setting, makes it feel soap opera glossy instead of scary. *1/2

A far better version of "Bobby" figures in Curtis' 1977 anthology Dead of Night (not to be confused with the brilliant 1945 film with the same title).  Joan Hackett stars as the grieving mother, who uses black candles and a spell to bring her son (Lee Montgomery) back. Her '70s split level is creepy enough, with its potted plants, orange shag carpets, and pea-green tinted lighting.  With such an eerie atmosphere and complex menace (stalking about in his blue pajamas and bedroom slippers), it might be my favorite Curtis film of the pack and it's pretty stunning, especially in comparison to his '96 rehash.  

The other two films in Dead of Night aren't as frightening. There's a predictable, pre-Back to the Futurepre-Midnight in Paris ditty about a 1920s car that transports Ed Begley, Jr. back in time and a plodding vampire tale, so over-the-top with its goth, I quickly lost interest. Overall it's worth a look... but mostly for "Bobby." **1/2

Other reviews of these films by Dan Curtis:
The Bloody Pit of Horror

and a cute little write-up on Karen Black's style in Trilogy of Terror on White Lightning

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


After watching Body Bags, Jerome and I partook in another anthology horror schlock-fest Nightmares.

Nightmares is a quartet of blissfully 80s morality tales (don't smoke, don't play too many video games, don't lose faith in God and if you're married, learn to get along).  Cristina Raines features in the first entry with a late night Marlboro-craving that outweighs the potential of getting nabbed in the California hills by an escaped mental patient.  The moonlit atmosphere is well-wrought (spooky imagery of her white station wagon on desolate streets) but the twist is laughable and abrupt.

A pre-Breakfast Club Emilio Estevez makes a believable video game addict in "Bishop of Battle."  There's an unnecessary but amusing opening where bandanna (and hair net)-donning tough guys make bets over winning Pleiades. Estevez takes a bus to Fox Hills Mall and becomes obsessed with winning Bishop of Battle (and out-muscling its taunting neon green villain).  He ends up breaking into the arcade after hours and dueling it out virtual reality style... the results are fairly predictable.

Perhaps the best and most complex story, "The Benediction", follows a priest in a Lilies of the Field-like setting who has lost his faith and is attacked by a black pick up truck (think Duel, Christine, and 1977's The Car).  That Satan is embodied by this truck, with its glinting roof lights, is somewhat unsettling.

Only wide-eyed Veronica Cartwright can muster such superlative horrified reactions as she plays a housewife in a rat-infested house in "Night of the Rat."  This entry is derivative of Of Unknown Origin, but not as dark, with a flimsy conclusion that endorses filial bonds.

Too intense for network TV (though these standards are less strict now), Nightmares was given a Universal Studios release.  Overall the production values are pretty shoddy (though the Xanadu-like visual effects in the arcade battle was reportedly costly) and the tales are fairly unoriginal, but all in all, this is a fun, pretty tame anthology horror flick. ***

-Jeffery Berg

Sunday, July 3, 2011

fashion in 'day for night'

François Truffaut's film Day for Night boasts plenty of fabulous early 70s fashion choices.  Jacqueline Bisset has said she bought her wardrobe from Missoni. Check out some stills below & also Refinery29.