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Also announcing the 2nd annual Apocalypse Later International Fantastic Film Festival!
Filmmakers, submissions for horror and sci-fi shorts are open through Film Freeway.

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IHSFFF and PFF 2017

Check out the Film Festival Coverage section over on the right or click here for the indexes for the these live festivals:

International Horror & Sci-Fi Film Festival 2017
Phoenix Film Festival 2017

Also check out my daily coverage at Apocalypse Later Now!

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Leopard Man (1943)


Director: Jacques Tourneur
Writer: Ardel Wray, based on the novel, Black Alibi, by Cornell Woolrich, with additional dialogue by Edward Dein
Stars: Dennis O’Keefe, Margo and Jean Brooks


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Putting my mere four names to shame, MarĂ­a Marguerita Guadalupe Teresa Estela Bolado Castilla y O'Donnell was born in Mexico City one hundred years ago today, though she shrank that name down about as far as possible for her screen career. However, as Margo, she didn’t make as many movies as she should have done, as she was blacklisted just as her star was rising. Even her more famous second husband, Eddie Albert, was caught up in that debacle too, and only found abiding fame after his service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. That’s a shame, because Margo showed great potential even as a child. At a mere nine years of age, she performed in nightclubs as a specialty dancer for Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra; that bandleader would marry her aunt, Carmen Castillo, when Margo was twelve. At seventeen, she was plucked off the dancefloor to play Claude Rains’s ex-lover in Crime without Passion. It ensured a screen career, which built steadily until her blacklisting, after which her roles became few and far between.

Even with only fourteen feature films to her name, I had a choice for this project. She was well regarded in Winterset in 1936, in a role which she’d originated on stage, in both instances playing the screen girlfriend of Burgess Meredith. She was also notable in Frank Capra’s Lost Horizon a year later, as the beautiful young lady who ages and dies rapidly after leaving Shangri-La. However, I went with this one as it’s a personal favourite of mine, even among the works of producer Val Lewton, whose fourteen pictures at RKO during the forties included nine horror movies which revolutionised the genre. At a time when Universal were the only real player in the genre left and their work after The Wolf Man had become a string of sequels, Lewton’s films really filled the gap, with a set of quality pictures that were written well, with deep thematic substance; shot well, with incredible use of light and shadows, as befitted the beginnings of the film noir era; and directed well, by a string of names who would go on to serious fame.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Helter Skelter (1949)


Director: Ralph Thomas
Writer: Patrick Campbell, with additional dialogue by Jan Read and Gerard Bryant
Stars: Carol Marsh and David Tomlinson


Index: 2017 Centennials.

It’s amazing what the passage of time can do to simple words. Nowadays, we might think of 'Helter Skelter' as a Beatles song or as the racial war prophesied by Charles Manson after obsessing over it. Some might think of the manga by Kyoko Okazaki or the live action film it spawned. Some may look much further backwards: Christina Rossetti’s poem, Goblin Market, published in 1862, over a century before The White Album, includes the phrase, ‘helter skelter, hurry skurry’; Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels, wrote a poem called Helter Skelter in 1731; and Thomas Nashe beat him by a century and a half by employing the phrase in his Four Letters Confuted, back in 1592. Apparently, it’s an Old English phrase dating back to the middle of the twelfth century, so we should feel no qualms about reappropriating it from the likes of Charles Manson. Sadly, however, when confronted with the phrase, few will think of this surreal comedy, produced by Gainsborough Pictures in 1949.

Of course, words are not the only things to change over time. They change much slower than fame and that’s never more obvious than when looking at comedians. I was born in England and lived there until I was 33, but this film, only a couple of decades older than I am, is like a glimpse into a different century, rather appropriate given that some of these comedians do exactly that at one point in the movie. It’s a Who’s Who of British comedy of the time, with names that I recognise, such as Terry-Thomas and Jimmy Edwards, prominent in the opening credits and a whole slew of others popping in briefly. Reading through the film’s IMDb page, I realise that I even missed a couple, presumably because I blinked, and others never appear on screen. For instance, the script was by Patrick Campbell, the third Baron Glenavy, an Irish humorist who later served as a long-running team captain on Call My Bluff, opposite Frank Muir, one of the few comedians of his day who apparently didn’t appear in this movie.

Friday, 5 May 2017

Cinco de Mayo (2013)


Director: Paul Ragsdale
Writer: Paul Ragsdale
Stars: Anthony Iava To’omata, Angelica de Alba, Joshua Palafox, Tiawny Ferreira, Christopher Beatty, Lindsay Amaral, Kyle Duval, Tommy Fourre, Ryan Holley, Robert Holloway, Steven Pettit Jr., Pete Magazinovic, Delawna McKinney, Don Gonzalez and Spencer Reza


Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

Not all holidays are English language, even if half the people getting drunk on Cinco de Mayo have never spent a day in Mexico in their lives and whose command of the Spanish language doesn’t extend past ‘uno mas’ and ‘por favor’. This feature, made because director Paul Ragsdale wanted to shoot a slasher movie, looked at holidays on the calendar and saw that there was a glaring gap on the 5th May just waiting for a Mexican horror feature, can’t hide its tiny budget but it does manage to do far more than I expected it might, especially as it progresses from a cheap beginning to a surprisingly poetic ending. It also veered quickly away from paths that I expected it to follow: while it did start out as a slasher, and it follows some rules from that genre, it feels far more seventies than eighties with a social awareness angle that feels completely out of place in a world epitomised by Freddy and Jason. It’s also predominantly in English, though with a heavy Hispanic focus and a little Spanish dotted here and there for flavour.

I have to say that the beginning is pretty awful, though I must also acknowledge that part of that is by design. Ragsdale decided to present Cinco de Mayo as the first half of a double bill showing on cable TV in a recurring segment called All Nite Long. This is truly embarrassing to my generation but only because it’s so accurate. Eden Trevino does a great job of parodying Rhonda Shear from the Friday edition of USA Up All Night, though in acknowledging that she clearly out-eighties her inspiration, I was shocked to find that Shear didn’t take over the show from Caroline Schlitt until 1991, making this a seventies film in an eighties segment sourced from a nineties show. The rest of the awful is less easy to explain away. Everyone in the cast makes it into the opening credits, in a font bad enough for L to look like I and actors to look like typos. Tlawny Ferrelra? Maybe not. Then, when the movie proper starts, with a brief prologue from a year earlier, it’s really dark and it’s difficult to see what’s going on. Not a good beginning.

Monday, 1 May 2017

5 Fingers (1952)


Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Writer: Michael Wilson, from the book by L. C. Moyzisch
Stars: James Mason, Danielle Darrieux and Michael Rennie


Index: 2017 Centennials.

At what point, I wonder, do spoilers come into play when covering a film based on historical fact? Well, my mindset these days was forged by a theatrical viewing of Public Enemies, at which I was shocked at the audible shock of one audience member when Johnny Depp’s character was killed. Yes, that’s public enemy number one John Dillinger, who was shot and killed by special agents in 1934. If American audience members can be blissfully unaware of such a historic American event, are they likely to know much about, say, espionage in Turkey during World War II? Probably not, so I’ll be careful here, though I have to highlight that this film, while based on a memoir, isn’t remotely as true as the ballsy opening scene might suggest. Rather than merely plaster the usual ‘this is a true story’ onto the screen, we’re also placed inside the House of Commons, as an MP asks if the book, Operation Cicero, is factual. The reply? ‘It must be regretfully admitted that, in substance, the story to which the honourable member refers is a true one.’

In a nutshell, this story involved a man selling a substantial amount of British secrets to the Nazis for cash. In reality, his name was Elyesa Bazna, a Turkish man of Albanian descent, who worked as valet to Sir Hughe Knatchbull-Hugessen, the British Ambassador to Turkey. The latter had a habit of taking secret documents home, in a dispatch box, and Bazna’s locksmithing skills allowed him to open this and photograph them. In late 1943, he contacted L. C. Moyzisch at the German Embassy in Ankara, and sold him a first batch of pictures. Given the codename of Cicero, he continued to do this for some months. Eventually the British discovered the leak and investigated, even mounting a sting operation that failed. However, the pressure was mounting and Cicero decided that it was time to quit. He stopped selling information in February 1944 and left the embassy in April. What’s wild is that the Nazis failed to act on any of this important information, not trusting it, and the British failed to catch Bazna.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Chicken Every Sunday (1949)


Director: George Seaton
Writers: George Seaton and Valentine Davies, from the stage play by Julius J. Epstein and Philip G. Epstein, in turn based on the memoir by Rosemary Taylor
Stars: Dan Dailey and Celeste Holm


Index: 2017 Centennials.

Hey look, it’s Tucson! And this isn’t one of my Dry Heat Obscurities reviews, because Tucson here is merely a setting not a location; the film was shot instead in a variety of towns in Nevada with frontier names like Carson City, Silver City or Virginia City. Another more appropriate location was Gardnerville, named for John M. Gardner, on whose land it was founded. Apparently he sold seven acres in 1879 to Lawrence Gilman, who had bought a house ten miles away and wanted to move it, possibly because it was haunted by a ghost highwayman. So the Kent House in Genoa became the Gardnerville Hotel in Gardnerville and the town was born. This is appropriate because this comedy really revolves around a struggle to define accomplishment and it suggests that its leading male character, James C. Hefferan, accomplished much because he gave his name to pretty much everything in Tucson, even if it rarely brought a decent income. The rest has to do with how his family survives this lack of money, which boils down to his wife, Emily.

That’s Emily Hefferan, in the lovely form of Celeste Holm, who owns this film. Dan Dailey isn’t bad as Jim and this came only a year after his Oscar-nomination for When My Baby Smiles at Me, but he’s an odd cross between Jimmy Stewart and Danny Kaye and he’s a lot more of a supporting character, flitting in and out of the story as needed, rather than driving it forward. He certainly drives the town of Tucson forward but not our story. Holm drives that from her standpoint as the grounding of the family, the film and what may well be the entire community as a sort of collective surrogate mother. Holm would have been a hundred years old today and she came pretty close, succumbing to a heart attack in 2012 at the age of 95. Her career wasn’t as prolific as some, but it ran long, the gap between Three Little Girls in Blue in 1946 and College Debts in 2015 being almost seven decades. In fact, many fans remember her for the TV show Promised Land, which ran from 1996 to 1999 as a spin-off from Touched by an Angel. She was 79 as that began.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation (1939)


Director: Norman Foster
Writers: Philip MacDonald and Norman Foster, based on the character created by John P. Marquand
Stars: Peter Lorre, Joseph Schildkraut, Lionel Atwill, Virginia Field, john King and Iva Stewart

This review is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Silver Screenings, Shadows & Satin and Speakeasy.
The Great Villain Blogathon is in its fourth year, appropriately hosted by Silver Screenings, Shadows & Satin and Speakeasy, given that all those S’s sound rather like a hiss. It has covered villains from silent era Lon Chaney to modern day Pixar with all the usual suspects in between, so I chose a slightly different approach for my entry into year four: a rapid-paced black and white film which paints San Francisco rather like Ben Kenobi’s famous description of Mos Eisley. It’s a ‘wretched hive of scum and villainy’ in which an assassin hovers outside every window, a ne’erdowell skulks in every shadow and the script racks up so many candidates for the role of master thief that we end up sitting back and letting Mr. Moto solve this one for us. This isn’t a film with a single villain, nor even a pair, but three distinct bands of them. Most dangerous among them is Metaxa, a legendary jewel thief believed to be dead. Mr. Moto is not so sure, so he’s taking a fake vacation under the firm expectation that our MacGuffin will draw him out.

That MacGuffin is the crown of Balkis, the Queen of Sheba, which is of such importance that there’s a radio journalist reporting on its excavation live from the back of a truck parked under the ‘pitiless Arabian sun’. It’s utterly priceless, of course, and is promptly whisked out of the country on its vulnerable journey to San Francisco’s Fremont Museum. You won’t be surprised to find that ‘the young and brilliant archaeologist, Howard Stevens’ is a Hollywood leading man take on the real archaeologist, Howard Carter, who, in 1922, discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun and, through the effusive prose of journalist H. V. Morton, kickstarted Egyptomania across the western hemisphere. Actor John King gives off a self-effacing Jimmy Stewart sort of vibe as Stevens, a rare character to not rank on the Metaxa possibility chart, so he tends to fade into the background when the villainy commences in earnest. He’s a mild fish out of water here but he found his feet within a year as ‘Dusty’ King in a series of westerns that wrapped up his career.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Resurrection (1999)


Director: Russell Mulcahy
Writers: Brad Mirman and Christopher Lambert, from a story by Brad Mirman
Stars: Christopher Lambert, Robert Joy, Barbara Tyson, Rick Fox and Leland Orser


Index: Horror Movie Calendar.

In our modern consumerist culture, it’s easy to see the holiday of Easter like Bill Hicks described it: ‘commemorating the death and resurrection of Jesus by telling our children a giant bunny rabbit left chocolate eggs in the night.’ However, to Christians, it’s one of the cornerstones of the liturgical year, the end of one season and the beginning of another, and it’s serious stuff indeed. It follows the season of Lent, during the six weeks of which many Christians prepare for Easter by fasting or giving up something to symbolise sacrifice. Lent ends with Holy Week, which is rich with key events: Palm Sunday marks the triumphal entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem, Maundy Thursday remembers the Last Supper and Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus. This all ends with Easter Sunday, which begins Eastertide with a great celebration, because it’s when Jesus rose from the dead after three days in the tomb. After Jesus’s birth, marked at Christmas, his resurrection is the most important event in the Christian year.

In fact, it’s so important that people have been arguing about it for millennia: what theological significance it bears, its tie to the Jewish holiday of Passover and even the date on which it should be celebrated. Controversies over when the correct date should be date back to the second century and trawl in the First Council of Nicaea and the Synod of Whitby. Things only got worse when the western world shifted from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar and they’re not even squared away yet. As recently as 1997, the World Council of Churches proposed reform, suggesting that Easter should be celebrated on the ‘first Sunday following the first astronomical full moon following the astronomical vernal equinox, as determined from the meridian of Jerusalem.’ Had that been adopted, it would have taken effect in 2001, a rare year in which the Western and Orthodox dates for Easter coincided. The fact is that it wasn’t adopted and people will continue to argue about it for the foreseeable future.