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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!

Monday, 17 July 2017

Did You Hear the One About the Traveling Saleslady? (1968)


Director: Don Weis
Writer: John Fenton Murray, from a story by James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum
Stars: Phyllis Diller, Bob Denver, Joe Flynn, Eileen Wesson, Jeanette Nolan, Paul Reed, Bob Hastings and David Hartman


Index: 2017 Centennials.

One hundred years ago today, Phyllis Ada Driver was born in Lima, OH. Under her married name of Phyllis Diller, this unique and groundbreaking talent would change the business of stand-up comedy which, before her, was a male only domain. Virtually every American female comedian since has cited her as an influence, including Joan Rivers who wrote for her before she found her own fame. Surprisingly, for someone with such a long career, it began late: she was already in her late thirties, married with five kids but a two week booking at the Purple Onion in San Francisco was extended to a year and a half and, just like that, she had a career. Of course, she eventually found her way to television and onto film but, like so many other comedians, she is still confined by her nationality. Humour is a fickle creature; it doesn’t travel the way that action, horror or romance do. As an Englishman, I never saw Diller on TV or in films and would have had difficulty understanding what made her so popular because of the cultural disconnect.

Even today, I believe I’ve only seen her once, in a highly unusual performance as a contestant on Groucho Marx’s game show, You Bet Your Life, in 1958. It was her television debut and she hadn’t yet adopted the outrageous persona that would make her famous. I found her funny, if a little nervous, and it was obvious that Groucho was impressed. So this was a real discovery for me and I’m not sure that I’ve fully recovered yet; what works on the stage of a comedy club doesn’t always translate into a narrative story and it’s not unfair to state that Diller’s schtick is hard to take as the lead character in a feature film. And I chose this one precisely because she was the lead, for the first time in a straight comedy feature, and I wanted to see how that worked. It was her seventh picture, following a tiny role in Splendor in the Grass; the lead in a musical, The Fat Spy; a voice acting slot in Mad Monster Party?; and a trio of supporting roles in Bob Hope movies: Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!, Eight on the Lam and The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Hotel Berlin (1945)


Director: Peter Godfrey
Writer: Jo Pagano and Alvah Bessie, from the novel by Vicki Baum
Stars: Faye Emerson, Helmut Dantine, Raymond Massey, Andrea King and Peter Lorre


Index: 2017 Centennials.

There’s a scene towards the end of Hotel Berlin where Faye Emerson ignores a speech by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, delivered in the magnificent voice of Peter Lorre’s character, because, well, she’s finally got the new pair of shoes that she’s been dreaming about for the entire film. You know, priorities. This was a cinematic in-joke, because at the time the movie was released, in March 1945, Emerson was married to Col. Elliott Roosevelt, son of the president and the favourite child of the first lady. They wed at the rim of the Grand Canyon in 1944, having flown there in planes provided by Howard Hughes, who had introduced them; Col. Elliott died in Scottsdale in 1990 in another Arizona connection. Their marriage didn’t last long; it was her second of three and his third of five. It also didn’t go well, given that she slit her wrists in December 1948 and was hospitalised during the recovery; she finally obtained a divorce in Mexico in 1950. By that point, she’d ended her screen career: 30 of her 33 films were released in the forties.

Instead, she moved from the big screen to the small one, where she soon became known as the ‘Best-Dressed Woman on TV’ and, somewhat inevitably, the ‘First Lady of Television’, though the latter has been reapplied to others every half decade or so. She was important enough early on to generate a rumour that the Emmy Award (for which she was twice nominated) was named for her; it wasn’t, being named for the Immy, the ‘image orthicon tube’ used in early television cameras, which was feminised to Emmy to go with the female image on the statuette. She hosted her own shows, such as The Faye Emerson Show in 1950 and 1951; she co-hosted Faye and Skitch in 1953, with her third husband, a bandleader called Lyle ‘Skitch’ Henderson; and she became a frequent panelist on game shows such as To Tell the Truth, What’s My Line? and and I’ve Got a Secret. Her last screen performance was as a team captain on The Match Game in 1963. After that, she lived a private life in Europe, dying in Spain in 1983. She would have been a hundred today.

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.