Throwback Thursday – The Ghost Walks (1934)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

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The Ghost Walks – And Proves Once Again “The Play’s The Thing”

Hiya, kiddies! So, the “old dark house”. It’s a mystery/horror sub-genre that we’ve discussed before, and honestly, it’s one of my favorites. I suppose one of the main reasons is because it’s like ordering a favorite meal at a restaurant. Even if you’ve never been to that particular eatery before, you still pretty well know what the ingredients are going to be and how it’s going to taste before you get it. Oh, sure, one cook may include a bit more or less of this ingredient or may put them together in a way that tries to impart a bit of his or her own personal style, but nine times out of ten you’re going to get something pretty much the same as that dish that you’ve enjoyed time and again.

Then, of course, there’s also that tenth time, when the cook actually does something somewhat unique and surprising with those familiar ingredients. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m certainly not suggesting that director Frank Strayer has invented anything truly new with The Ghost Walks. No, for the most part it consists of all of the familiar elements that make up an old dark house mystery:

1) A group of disparate people are, for one reason or another gathered together in a creepy old mansion – in this particular case a fallen tree and a washed out road prove effective enough to thrust our protagonist and his traveling companions into a seemingly already quite awkward family gathering, thereby allowing this particular phase to move along quite quickly

2) There is some reason for everyone to be suspicious of everyone else – often the cause of the gathering is the reading of a will which leaves one or more parties dissatisfied with the results. In this particular case the Mcguffin is the anniversary of the murder of the husband of one of the characters.

3) There should be at least one “coincidental” connection between some of the characters – ofttimes one or more will know another character from a different setting.

4) Quite often there is also a random element thrown into the mix – for instance here we are informed of an inmate recently escaped from an insane asylum.

5) Eventually all of the lights in the house will inexplicably go out, and when they come back on, someone will have been killed leaving the survivors to try to figure out who among them could possibly be the killer.

6) Soon, even more mysterious things begin to happen – a strange hand will reach out from around a corner, the eyes of a picture will move in a way that tells us someone unknown is watching the proceedings, more people will die or disappear, secret passages will be found and more. Yep, kiddies, all of these elements are present in The Ghost Walks, just as they are in pretty much all old dark house mysteries.

What sets this particular film apart from most of its brethren of the genre, however, is the twist that occurs just after the victim of the first murder is revealed. Now, I’m not going to say that it turns this little quickie into a great movie, but it does serve not only to explain some of the “coincidences” that we’re asked to swallow during the first act, and also provides the film with a sense of humor that it would otherwise be lacking, which helps to keep the whole piece from becoming too familiar and dreary. In other words, just as with that one time in ten that that favorite meal is transformed into something above and beyond just “the usual”, The Ghost Walks manages also to take the usual ingredients and transform them into a unique taste sensation.

Ok, I couldn’t find a suitable trailer for this one, but since the whole movie is embedable in one piece from YouTube, here ya go:

And here’s the Skinny:

Title: The Ghost Walks
Release Date: 1934
Running Time: 63mins
Black and White
Stars: John Miljan, June Collier
Directed by: Frank R. Strayer
Produced by: Maury M. Cohen
Distributed by: Chesterfield Motion Pictures Corporation
Distributed by: First National Pictures

Until next time, Happy Treasure Hunting,
-Professor Damian

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

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Fear The Net – The Den (2013)

Horror has a long history of transforming the latest technology into terror. In the 50s, for instance, the atomic bomb and radiation was responsible for all kinds of mutations and critters. The 60s and 70s brought us malfunctioning computers trying to take over the world. In the 80s we got Videodrome and other films that focused on television and similar technology seen as intruding into our homes. Now there is a new technology that is fueling the modern media horror front: social media and the internet.

All of this makes sense, of course, since one of the most effective ways for horror movies to get under our skin is to make us confront those things which are in the public consciousness at the time, and today, when it seems like everyone is connected to some type of screen during their every waking hour, and there are all kinds of news and other stories about online stalking, cyber-bullying, sexting, and other forms of online “mischief”, very little is more on our minds than what can happen on the net.

The Den is a 2013 movie which follows Elizabeth Benton (Melanie Papalla), a grad student who is given a grant to study a Chat Roulette like site called The Den (thus the movie’s title) to see how many truly meaningful conversations she can have with the random strangers she meets on the site. Okay, it’s kind of a silly premise for a grant, but really it doesn’t matter that much since it’s really just an excuse to  get her involved with and really absorbed by the site.

Soon, Elizabeth is spending almost all of her time on the site, which annoys her boyfriend Damien who feels like she is ignoring him and worries her friends Jennie and Max.

We follow Elizabeth as she encounters various people online, some of her encounters are humorous, some relatively normal, some kind of scary. It’s not long, however, before strange things start happening – her computer starts turning itself on, filming her while she is unaware, and she begins receiving messages from and chatting with a girl whose camera is not working but seems to be in some kind of distress.

The mysterious stranger lets Elizabeth know that they spied on Elizabeth while she was having sex with her boyfriend and recorded it. The next time she is contacted by the stranger, their webcam suddenly turns on and Elizabeth sees a girl bound and gagged who is then brutally murdered before her eyes.

Terrified, Elizabeth takes the video to the police who tell her that there is nothing that that they can do. She then goes to her friend Max, a computer hacker, who insists that the video in probably faked, but agrees to try to help her track down the  source of the video.

Soon after, Elizabeth’s boyfriend Damien disappears and when she and the police go to investigate, they find his apartment completely cleaned out.and once again, she is told there’s no real evidence of a crime and their hands are tied. While she is busy with the police, her friend Jenni is tricked by someone pretending to be Elizabeth to go to Liz’s house where she is kidnapped by a masked intruder.

Further chaos ensues as Elizabeth is led down a terrifying road by the intruder in her life, but I don’t want to give away too much more of the plot because it is worth watching the movie to see all the twists and turns to come.

The big question, when it comes to a movie like this, which is largely about the style, with everything taking place on one or anther type of screen, is how well do the filmmakers carry off the conceit, and does it add to the film or distract from it. The purpose of an exercise like this, it would seem, is to enhance the immersion of the viewer in the experience of the movie and to increase the empathy of the viewer with the protagonist. Perhaps that seems a bit contradictory, since seeing everything through a screen might be seen as more of a distancing technique, but that is offset by the immediacy of the events,

On light of this, I have to say that The Den carries off this conceit very well. Though there are a few moments that ring slightly false, for the most part it does not have the sense of artificiality that plague many of these “found footage” films.

It also helps that Melanie Paplia, who plays Elizabeth, has a natural charm that helps draw the viewer in, even as her circumstances and the reactions of those around her – especially the police – strain credulity. That way, when things turn truly dire, we are invested in her plight and care what happens to her.

Here’s your trailer:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OTR Tuesday – Suspense (1942-1962) Revisited Again

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

Yes, I know that we just looked at Suspense last week, but there are so many good episode of  the show that it seemed worthwhile to give it another week.

 

 

 

 

Universal Announces More Silent Film Restorations, Hollywood Reporter Doesn’t Know What Silent Films Are

At a recent screening of their restoration of the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs, Universal announced that it will be continuing its silent movie restoration project (first announced in 2015) by restoring another ten silent films over the next few years. This is, of course, welcome news to film fans, especially to fans of film history.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Michael Daruty, senior vice president global media operations of NBCUniversal, stated “These early pioneers crafted the foundation of filmmaking and we are proud that our restoration efforts enable their work to be shared with today’s audiences. We take the stewardship of this cultural legacy very seriously, and feel it is not only our responsibility but also our privilege to preserve these films for future generations.”

There was no word on which movies would be part of the restoration project, but Universal’s previous efforts have led to new prints of films such as Outside the Law, Oh, Doctor!, The Last Warning, and Sensation Seekers.

Now, I know that none of the above titles are blockbusters, and they’re not going to have audiences beating down the doors of their local multiplex to see them, but I still believe they are an important part of our shared history and legacy, not just filmically, but culturally. These movies help to give us a sense not just of what entertained us in the past, but who we were.

I was, however, taken aback a bit when I read this article about the project from the Hollywood Reporter website when they stated “Since 2012, Universal’s silent film initiative has led to the restoration of 78 films, including major titles like Dracula (1931), Frankenstein, Jaws, Schindler’s List, Out of Africa, The Sting, To Kill a Mockingbird, Double Indemnity, Holiday Inn, Spartacus and Cleopatra..”

Ummm.. yeah. It’s true that Universal has produced new restorations of these movies, and they are definitely worthy of preservation, but none of them are silent films. Now, Katie Kilkenny, who wrote the article probably knows this, and was likely just taking the info from a press release, but still, considering the prestige of THR, one would expect a bit better.

Ah, well. It’s still good news, and I do look forward to seeing the results of these efforts, and just wish some of the other studios would join in the effort to preserve our film heritage.

Throwback Thursday – The Parallax View (1974)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back. 

Politics, conspiracies, political conspiracy thrillers – they never go out of style. Here’s a revisit of a good one from the 70s.

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Conspiracy Theorists Need To Apply – The Parallax View (1974)

pvcI’m not sure exactly why I decided last night’s movie would be 1974’s The Parallax View, or even when I put it in my Netflix queue. Still, there it was, and since I was in a kind of “what the heck” mood, I decided to give it a go.

Coming out at a time when political corruption, conspiracy theories, and political assassinations were all at the forefront of the American psyche, The Parallax View is according to Wikipedia, the middle film in director Alan J. Pakula‘s so-called “Political Paranoia Trilogy” which also includes 1971’s Klute, which I haven’t yet seen, and 1976’s All The President’s Men, which I have. (Though it has been awhile, and I probably should revisit it sometime soon.) This is not to say that the film relies on any knowledge of, or even directly relates to either of those films, as the link between them is one of theme more than plot.

The Parallax view stars Warren Beatty as Joseph Frady, a somewhat naive reporter who finds himself drawn unwillingly into a world of political intrigue and, yes. conspiratorial assassination. The guiding force behind these assassinations turns out to be the titular Parallax Corporation which actively recruits people like Frady, people who seem to be on the edge, to become assassins.

Or do they?

The movie is very much one of its time, making use of then-popular pop-culture tropes such as personality testing and visual brain washing. There is even a scene which echoes the forced retraining scene in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, with a very interesting video montage, though the scene itself is much less disturbing and intense than that of the Kubrick film.

pvbAnd perhaps that’s the problem with the entire film, and why it was less well received and remains much less well remembered than Pakula’s two other films in this “trilogy”. It simply never manages to convey any real sense of intensity or immediacy. Under Pakula’s direction, scenes such as the opening fight on the top of Seattle’s Space Needle, which could have provided great tension seem much too removed and foreshortened to truly give it any sense of what is at stake, and that is something that carries through the length of the movie, making it seem rather disjointed and – while it’s not particularly hard to follow – jumpy, as Frady moves from point to point in following the conspiracy depending far too much on what seems coincidence.

Of course, it could be argued that these coincidences are not what they seem, but that is not a point that the movie really addresses, so the viewer is left at times having to play catch up just a bit too much.

pvaAs far as the acting goes, Beatty, whose talent onscreen was unfortunately for most of his career overshadowed by his offscreen reputation turns in his usual engaging performance. He is very ably backed by a supporting cast which includes Hume Cronyn, William Daniels and Paula Prentiss, all of whom are good here, but never seem as engaged as they would be in other roles.

In the end, The Parallax View is a pretty typical 70s conspiracy thriller, complete with a relatively nihilistic ending which was the going trend at the time. It is certainly worth the time if you have nothing better to do with an evening and are a fan of this kind of film, but at the same time, I can’t consider putting it in the category of a “must see”.

(The preceding review was, by the way, paid for by the Parallax Corporation, but you should not take that as any indication that it was designed to throw you off the scent of any ongoing assassination conspiracies or other ongoing schemes. Probably.)

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

OTR Tuesday – Suspense (1942-1962) Revisited

The short intro: For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, Old Time Radio is the phrase generally used to refer to the time when radio was (mostly) live, and was full of a variety of different shows, as opposed to simply being a means for record labels to use robots to promote the top records of the day. OTR  Tuesday is my chance to explore some of those old radio shows, their connections (both old and new) to movies, and hopefully to encourage some of the rest of you to take a look at a probably unfamiliar source of entertainment that I truly love. If you want more info on OTR, and some examples of the variety of shows that were made, be sure to check out this introductory post.

I thought today might be a good time to take another look at one of the true classics of the Golden Age of radio.

Suspense actually got its start on the CBS program Forceast, which was designed as a tryout show which provided a place for pilots of ideas that the network was considering giving their own slot. The pilot for Suspense, which aired on July 22, 1940, featured an adaptation of Marie Belloc Lowndes’ story “The Lodger”, directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Herbert Marshall, Edmund Gwenn, and Lurene Tuttle. Hitchcock had already filmed the story in England in 126, so he was already familiar with it, and this was his American radio-directing premier. Interestingly, in a very audacious move, Hitchcock holds back the actual ending of the story from the radio audience, thus compounding and confounding the promised emotion. I’ve provided this Forecast audition/pilot as the first item below.

Over its twenty year run the program went through, as would be expected, a number of various iterations and sponsors. Beginning as a sustained program in 1952, it wasn’t until two years later that it picked up its first advertiser, Roma Wines. Eventually, during what most consider the heyday of the program, it was sponsored by Autolite spark plugs.

As indicated by the title, the main focus of the show was mystery/thriller stories, though in later years it did tend to present more horror/science fiction tales along with the mysteries.

One of the more interesting aspects of the program, and perhaps one of the reasons not only for its longevity but also for its popularity, was that it wasn’t afraid to re-present stories that proved popular with its audience. These were not actual re-runs, however, but actual new productions of the same script, sometimes with the participation of the original cast, and sometimes without. For instance, Suspense presented Lucille Fletcher’s story “Sorry, Wrong Number” eight different times during its run, first on May 25, 1943, and for the final time on February 14, 1960. Amazingly, every one of these presentations featured the great Agnes Moorehead in the lead role!

Suspense also, especially in its later years, was known for re-using scripts from other popular CBS programs, most notably what some consider to have been in a way its sister show, Escape, and The Mysterious Traveler. (Both of which, btw, I’ll be featuring in upcoming OTR Thursday posts.)

At its height, Suspense was able to draw a number of great Hollywood stars to its microphones, including Orson Welles, Joseph Cotten, Henry Fonda, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Ronald Colman, Marlene Dietrich, Eve McVeagh, Lena Horne, and Cary Grant.

One final note: the date of Suspense’s last broadcast, September 30, 1962, is often cited as “the day the golden age of radio died”. Though that may not be literally true – obviously there were other broadcasts and shows that continued beyond that point, it is a significant milestone and turning point for the radio drama format, and for lovers of these great radio shows.

But let’s not dwell upon that today. Instead let’s sit back and simply be entertained by one of the truly all-time great radio programs and more tales calculated to keep you in…

SUSPENSE!