September 21

Straight on Till Morning (1972, d. Peter Collinson)

One of the cruelest films about love I’ve ever seen, from a somewhat unlikely source: Hammer Studios. Drop the serial killer elements and it would become a Harold Pinter play, edited as if it was a mod comedy.

Paranoiac (1963, d. Freddie Francis)

I guess everyone deals with grief in their own way.

The Reptile (1966, d. John Gilling)

Sitars have no place in Hammer Horror movies.

The Plague of the Zombies (1966, d. John Gilling)

Why look, it’s 19th Century hunt master Charles Brand and his band of merry rapists.

The Gorgon (1964, d. Terence Fisher)

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September 20

Fear in the Night (1972, d. Jimmy Sangster)

Is it a schoolhouse?
Did you see the headmaster?
The blind lead the blind.

Urban Legend (1998, d. Jamie Blanks)

Director shoots blanks
but at least the murderer
can ghost ride the whip.

Urban Legends: Final Cut (2000, d. John Ottman)

Bad film 101:
It’s film school confidential
Everyone’s suspect.

September 19

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done (2009, d. Werner Herzog)

“Do you mean to leave it here?”
“Yeah…I’m hoping some young future player will find it.”

Without Warning (1980, d. Greydon Clark)

September 18

Leonard Part 6 (1987, d. Paul Weiland)

Bill Cosby dreams of fair to middling manicurists under the watchful eye of himself.

September 17

Nightkill (1980, d. Ted Post)

Beware the cowboy.

Ted Post’s precursor to Blood Simple. Robert Mitchum’s no M. Emmet Walsh, but he also doesn’t have a script or good costars to work with.

Subway Riders (1981, d. Amos Poe)

Perp’s a pied piper
Luring passers-by to doom…
Sleeping with weapons.

Blue (1993, d. Derek Jarman)

A respected queer filmmaker makes a pompous radio play…attaches it to a color, calls it a movie. I find the respect this film receives bewildering. It’s not a Rothko painting; I’m not going to cry at it. Nor is it playful or engaging like Debord’s slightly similar Howls for Sade. It’s just a miserable, boring whine, not for its tragic narrative content, but for the superficial theatricality of its voice acting.

September 16

Dr. Otto and the Riddle of the Gloom Beam (1986, d. John R. Cherry III)

I’ve always liked the Ernest P. Worrell franchise. Don’t get me wrong: most of the films made after Ernest Scared Stupid were just insipid sentimental pandering to the stereotyped others and outsiders, but even those can at least be admired as well-meaning. The first few Ernest films are pretty great child-oriented variations on the frat comedy, with the moral conscience of the first Police Academy movie (not much but it’s a start), and Varney’s embodiment of the Harvey-the-Rabbit philosophy of the happy simpleton is very effective.

Of course, before he went to Camp (a presumably intentional double-entendre), Ernest was an advertising icon, created by the director of the subsequent films, independent advertising designer John Cherry. And to have a full understanding of Cherry as an artist instead of just a lucky industrialist, it’s necessary to view Dr. Otto and the Gloom Beam, a strange, messy, gruesome film with an indeterminable audience – some would say too dark for children, too stupid for adults. It’s an intentionally corny tour de force for Varney, who plays the titular Dr. Otto and a series of personas that Otto can take on through his ‘changing coffin’ (an Aussie militia leader, a peg-legged pirate, his familiar elderly-woman-in-neck-brace, and of course Ernest). His plan to ruin the world’s capital (already a little more complex than the villainy of the Ernest films) is opposed by America’s most admired democracy-spouting secret agent (a coward and imbecile) and his black female sidekick (who is his moral/intellectual/physical superior). I think this is the only film to feature both Ernest P. Worrell and a man sticking a gun in his mouth in preparation for suicide. Make your jokes.

If I have somehow misunderstood any nuances of the plot, it’s because the film is largely disorienting, from its opening “Hey Vern, KnoWhutIMean” frantic first-person camera to its wonderfully bizarre climax (with the imbecile hero fighting all of Varney/Otto’s manifestations in a neon red and green laboratory). What is remarkable about the film is this matter of indeterminable audience, and I suppose what it most reminded me of were films that I saw as a child that felt like they were made for adults….back when children’s entertainment had moral complexity, or at least, adult obstacles, running through it. I’m not sure if it’s still true of all of them, but I admired this quality in the Tommy Tricker films (otherness), The Wizard of Speed and Time (career desperation), The Boy Who Could Fly (autism and orphaning),  George’s Island (foster care and abusive social systems), Who Framed Roger Rabbit (dropping pianos on people’s heads / real estate scams). These are the kinds of family films that aren’t made any more and I’m wondering why that is, if it doesn’t have something to do with the devaluing of the family over the past 20 years (which has little to do with identity politics and political correctness, like some right-wing pundits might claim; I’m much more concerned about selfish, absentee yuppie parents).

Once in a while I think about the kind of parent that I would want to be and the kind of things I would want to expose my child to, and I see the quality of family films that have rapidly declined into the brainless void of pop culture. The Shrek films are possibly the worst offenders, which in their effort to pander to adult audiences provide children with humor that either requires explanation, extra-textual framing (“You see, Shakira was a singer in the early 21st Century…,” “American Idol was a talent show.”), or that is simply stupid. And what an adult might accept as entertainment today to escape a dreary work week is not the kind of material that children should be raised on. A parallel to draw between past and present family entertainment is the Dr. Doolittle franchise, which went from the timeless and universal to the immediate gratification of present-day pop culture commentary. What we produce and embrace is a culture of constant, non-critical commentary on the albums, films, television, and news of the day, and conveniently for studios desperate to perpetually rehash their films, they won’t have any cultural value except as time capsules in five or ten years. The Wedding Singer, Adam Sandler’s one masterpiece, might be the only film I can think of that understands and uses this pop culture referencing to great effect (by attending to timeless themes while making itself anachronistic for its audience).

To bring that long rant back around to Dr. Otto: it’s corny and obnoxious and it tries too hard to be strange, but it has the tone of my childhood fascinations and in some way it has a sense of morality in its humor. It’s a shame that there will never again be films like it.

September 15

The Silence of the Hams (1994, d. Ezio Greggio)

“…so it was the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock who killed me. I guess he did not like me fucking up his movie.”