Thirty Hertz Rumble

A bl-g about movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick

Page 6 of 57

The Devil Doll: 31 Days of Horror

devil doll 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of The Devil Doll Shame:
Unwatched Tod Browning

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1930’s
Before 1970’s
Directors 6: Tod Browning



 

#2. The Devil Doll

 

devil doll 31 days of horror

 

Finding an unseen Browning wasn’t much of a chore. Finding an unseen Browning in the watchpile proved to be a little more difficult. I stumbled across The Devil Doll in this Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection. I’d watched the other films in the set, but apparently skipped The Devil Doll. It’s on the same disc as Mad Love starring Peter Lorre, a film to which I’d also give a high recommendation. TCM often plays it during October, so keep your eyes spicy peeled on the calendar. (It’s playing on October 31st, by the way, and The Devil Doll makes an appearance on October 28th.)

Based on the book Burn Witch Burn! by Abraham Merritt, Browning’s The Devil Doll concerns a convict by the name of Paul Lavond (Lionel Barrymore) wrongly accused of robbing a bank and murdering a night watchman. 17 years after his conviction, he escapes with a mad scientist whose work entails creating a formula to reduce people to 1/6th their original size. No one ever calls him “mad” — but trust me, he’s a traditional lunatic. Likewise, most everyone else in this picture. The scientist dies shortly after their escape and his assistant (the scene-stealing Rafaela Ottiano) urges Lavond to continue his work. After some consideration, Lavond agrees, but with the intention of using the formula to exact revenge on the men and former business partners who’d framed him for the original crime.

Lavond’s plan is thus: Dress as an old woman who makes dolls. The She-Barrymore sends these little 1/6th doll people out to kill his enemies and ultimately clear his name. Of course once he clears his name, he’s got that whole weird crossdressing dollmaker thing to explain, but maybe we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Or maybe not.

Tod Browning’s commercial career peaked with Dracula (1931) and he went on to direct the notorious Freaks (1932) a year later. Freaks nearly ruined his career. His post-Freaks career consists of contrition and studio projects of varying value and ambition. I would suggest, having now seen The Devil Doll, that this film represents perhaps his most ambitious and most interesting studio film.

Adapted to the screen by Erich von Stroheim (!) and Guy Endore, The Devil Doll displays a remarkable amount of personal melancholy on behalf of the beleaguered director. MGM only made The Devil Doll because they needed to honor the contract signed by Browning in the wake of Dracula‘s success. As Freaks was the first film made under this contract, it goes without saying that MGM immediately regretted the investment.

devil doll 31 days of horror

She-Barrymore and Maureen O’Sullivan in The Devil Doll (1936).

Visually, the film’s a bit of a marvel for 1936. The matte effects used to place the “dolls” within the scene and action appear rather seamless. Critics at the time likened the achievement of these effects to that of King Kong and The Invisible Man.

The element that elevates the film beyond standard 30’s horror fare is the relationship between Barrymore’s Lavond and his estranged daughter, played by the always radiant Maureen O’Sullivan. Lionel often had a tendency to overplay these emotional scenes in lesser films, but in The Devil Doll he’s restrained, acting as an extension of the director’s vision for the film as a familial melodrama wrapped in commercial horror. And he’s doing this under a bad wig and old lady rags.

 

Audio/Visual notes:

The DVD image could definitely use some clean-up, and its a shame that his film hasn’t been treated with more kindness throughout the years. Warner Archive has re-released this set in recent years, but I haven’t seen the new discs to know if anything’s been done to improve this original.

Final Thoughts:

I’ve read that filmmaker Guy Maddin considers this a highly influential film, and I can see the relevance to Maddin’s experimental oeuvre that presents an off-kiler narrative with earnest emotion beneath the apparent madness. After my first watch of The Devil Doll, I wasn’t quite sure what I’d just watched. The film mingles so many disparate genre elements that it all seemed, well confused. I let the film roll, starting over again at the beginning. The Devil Doll points us in certain genre-defined directions. I settled in for a routine experience throughout the second half of the film, but witnessed anything but routine. After re-watching the opening twenty minutes or so, I came to appreciate how Browning manipulated his audience and then unleashed something curiously sentimental. In a movie about little people running amuck.

30Hz Movie Rating:

 

 


Availability:  

Warner Archive re-released the Hollywood Legends of Horror Collection late last year.


amazon-buy-button

warner archive logo

 

 

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2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster (1959) / #2. The Devil Doll (1936)

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

caltiki the immortal monster 31 days of horror

Caltiki the Immortal Monster: 31 Days of Horror

caltiki 31 days of horror

31+ Days of Horror. 33 Horror Movies. 33 Reviews. Hooptober Challenges and Bonus Tasks.
View my 2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-thon Statement here.

Nature of Caltiki the Immortal Monster Shame:
Unwatched Arrow Blu-ray

Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1950’s
Before 1970’s



 

#1. Caltiki the Immortal Monster

 

caltiki 31 days of horror

 

So I’m creeping off the starting gates in the 2017. One might suggest I’m creeping into this Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober challenge like a slightly animated infinity scarf permeating a 1/10th scale model Italian chateau.

caltiki 31 days of horror

I blind bought the Arrow Blu-ray package for Caltiki the Immortal Monster because I couldn’t resist the allure of a 1959 sci-fi monster movie with special effects by a young Mario Bava in a spiffy Arrow package. (Bava shares directorial credit with Riccardo Freda.) Mostly I wondered “Why exactly?” But those “why exactly” wonders often provide more than enough impetus for a viewing.

I snuck this one in on the first day of viewing (September 16th) while the wife indulged in a documentary on ballet dancers — which was oddly, based on the few minutes I watched, more horrific that Caltiki the Immortal Monster. (And she’s the one that says she doesn’t watch horror!) The expedient runtime, therefore, made Caltiki the ideal opening volley in the Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon 2017. Consider the cannons fired.

caltiki 31 days of horror

As special effects coordinator, Mario Bava does remarkable work in transforming a limp rag into an all consuming monster millions of in the offing. Caltiki reportedly offed the Mayans so it’s good at the offing business. This reworking of 1958’s The Blob via Universal’s The Mummy, transports the viewer to Mexico/Central America where scientists have travelled to study reasons for the demise of the Mayan civilization. (So the Blob with a sombrero, mostly. I kid.)

While exploring a cave featuring an entrance to a unique lake/reservoir, one of the scientists disappears and another returns, raving and ranting himself to death. In the 1950’s, we were certainly desensitized to scientists literally dying  from the things they’d witnessed. There just seemed to be a lot of that going around.

A return trip to the cave claims one more explorer and a piece of another but our fearless band of trespassers manages to isolate a piece of the monster to take back for study. The pulsing rag of a monster devours flesh, consumes psyches and feeds on radiation — all the qualities you need for a ripping monster movie.

Audio/Visual notes:

As I’ve never seen Caltiki the Immortal Monster before this Blu-ray release, I can’t speak to the original state of the film, but the version presented here by Arrow films shows remarkable detail and clarity for a 1950’s Italian production. If anything, the disc’s clarity calls attention to the scale models used for scenes after Caltiki grows to tidal wave size. Depending upon your viewing mentality this might prove to be a Bava-licious treat or it might take you right out of the film. However, if you’ve singled out something as relatively obscure as Caltiki for viewing, it’s my guess that you belong to the former group. You’ll also be well served to view the film with commentary because it offers some nice details about the production.

caltiki 31 days of horror

When scarves attack.

Final Thoughts:

Comparing Caltiki directly to The Blob, which predated this film by a year, you’ll notice a couple scenes of relative and surprising shock value. When Caltiki devours its first victim and then reveals a bloody, pulpy skeleton, like discarded chicken bones, it took me by surprise to see such grue in what up until that point had been a pretty run-of-the-mill 1950’s monster flick.

Definitely worth a viewing for fans of Bava and 1950’s horror. It’s interesting to view the film as a bridge directly to the 1960’s when horror films began to take more bloody liberties. Caltiki offers some wonderful old-fashioned chiaroscuro and considered composition. It’s a well-shot movie considering its genre origins. Caltiki serves up exotic variations on established horror films and tropes. Bava works SFX magic during the film’s final ten minutes.

 

30Hz Movie Rating:

30hzrating31-2

 

 


Availability:  

The recent Arrow Films Blu-ray release is widely available, an essential acquisition for classic monster fans and/or Bava completists.

amazon-buy-button

 

 

 

 

Save


2017 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Caltiki The Immortal Monster

 

2016 Cinema Shame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile Shame-a-thon

#1. Vampyros Lesbos / #2. A Chinese Ghost Story / #3. The Haunting of Morella / #4. Delirium (1972) / #5. A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin / #6. She-Wolf of London / #7. Son of Frankenstein / #8. Killerfish / #9. The Bride of Re-Animator / #10. A Bay of Blood / #11. The Seventh Victim / #12. The Fly (1958) / #13. The Fly (1986) / #14. Deep Red / #15. Dracula’s Daughter / #16. Day of the Animals / #17. The Unknown / #18. Kuroneko / #19. Komodo / #20. Tremors / #21. Tremors 2 / #22. A Nightmare on Elm Street / #23. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge / #24. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors / #25. Tenebrae / #26. Salem’s Lot / #27. Veerana / #28. House of Wax / #29. The Bird with the Crystal Plumage / #30. Dead and Buried / #31 Ghost and Mr. Chicken

dick tracy NES

Dick Tracy (NES): Licensed to Kill

dick tracy nesDick Tracy (NES)

Game Vitals:

Released: August 1990 by Realtime Associates on the NES and Sega Genesis. Gameboy and Sega Master System in 1991.

David Warhol founded Realtime Associates in 1986 with a group of ex-Mattel Electronics employees with the intention of developing games for the Intellivision game system. Most recently they released the Intellivision Lives! compilation titles for XBox, Nintendo Gamecube and Playstation 2 consoles.

Realtime has been responsible for a large number of forgettable and memorably miserable licensed game titles. We’ll revisit their ability to “craft” “classic” video games when we get to The Rocketeer (NES) and hopefully even the spinoff from the Warlock (Genesis) films. The latter of which is news to me. These totally overlooked titles based on films completely unworthy of adaptation always intrigue me.

 

Dick Tracy’s August 1990:

  • The U.S. commits naval forces to Iraq, and Operation Desert Shield formerly begins
  • Mike Tyson charged with sexual harassment.
  • George Steinbrenner steps down as Yankee owner.
  • East and West Germany announced that they would unite on October 3rd.
  • Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love” rules over the Billboard chart for the entire month.
  • Ghost reclaimed the top spot at the box office on August 5th in its 4th week in release. It would regain the top spot in its 8th week of release on September 3rd.

 

The “Original”:

dick tracy quad teaser poster

Original Cinema Quad Poster – Movie Film Posters

Since the game wasn’t sold to capitalize on the sudden success of the 1931 comic strip or 1937 serial with prepubescent boys of the late 20th century, we’ll call the 1990 film “the original” and carry on with our conversation, ignoring the cries of purists.

Dick Tracy‘s winding path to cinemas began in the early 1980’s when Top Gun scribes Jim Cash and Jack Epps, Jr. began the adaptation of the 1930’s comic serial. Before Warren Beatty became the shepherd of the project, names such as Steven Spielberg, John Landis and even Walter Hill had been attached to direct. Let’s all take a few moments to consider a Walter Hill version of Dick Tracy.

Walter Hill's The Warriors. Imagine them, I suppose, in banana yellow leather vests.

Before Beatty’s Dick Tracy hit theaters in June of 1990, the movie’s promotional campaign suffocated us all with top-of-mind awareness. Anyone remember the following MTV “Be Dick Tracy” contest? How about the Dick Tracy Crimestopper Game at McDonald’s that turned us all into scratch-off addicts. Disney’s MGM Studios even had a musical stage show based on the character called the Diamond Double Cross. Somewhere I’m sure Al Pacino popped out of a Happy Meal having already eaten all of your fries. Insert some line about saying hello to his little friend here.

Disney foisted Dick Tracy up as the tentpole movie of the summer. This, of course, coming on the heels of the success of Tim Burton’s Batman the prior yearThe wave of cinematic comic-book adaptations in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s seems downright quaint compared to the times in which we’re currently living where every blockbuster has its roots in comics or graphic novels.

The most interesting aspect of this 1990’s comic-book takeover was that Batman‘s box office didn’t kickstart a superhero trend; it inspired a reconsideration and reconstitution of all manner of graphic idols. In addition to Dick Tracy, properties such as The Shadow, The Crow, The Mask, Tank Girl, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles all made their theatrical debuts in the first half of the 1990’s.

It wasn’t until my recent rewatch of Dick Tracy for this column that I recognized how heavily the film leans on Batman. At one point our titular hero falls through a skylight, and Beatty orients the scene in such a way that recalls the Caped Crusader’s plunge into the Flugelheim Museum to rescue Vicki Vale. Tracy leaps onto lampposts and scales buildings — very Batman activities, just without any style or grace. Even Beatty’s stuntman seems to labor during long distance running shots just to make his performance, relative to the less-than-nimble Beatty, more believable.

batman skylight plunge

In case you missed it, this is not Dick Tracy.

Beatty also tabbed Danny Elfman to score his film. Elfman’s Batman score — now iconic — overlaps his work on Dick Tracy. A close listen will have you wondering if these were merely excerpts of the former score. Naturally, the close artistic proximity of the two compositions will lend echoes of similarity, but close your eyes and in the absence of Tracy‘s garish primary colors you might just visualize Michael Keaton busting Gotham goons.

All this is rather comical (pun absolutely intended) since the original Dick Tracy strip heavily influenced Batman. Batman borrowed the grotesque lineup of villains, the looming and dangerous city as central character, and the vigilante crime fighter character.

dick tracy comic

Overall, Beatty’s Dick Tracy is a weightless, but beautiful reimagining of the original comics. In many ways it feels like a lesser Batman/Who Framed Roger Rabbit hybrid. I wasn’t drawn at all to the Tracy character — Tracy by nature is a pure-as-snow, goody-two-shoes detective, and Beatty’s representation offers no further shading. I was more drawn to the grey areas of Madonna’s nightclub singer Breathless Mahoney. Sidenote: Did anyone else recall that this PG-rated film revealed Madonna’s nipples? Because I’m pretty sure 12-year-old me would have remembered that.

madonna dick tracy

Looking back on the film from 2017, you’ll spend your time admiring the gorgeous matte paintings and makeup prosthetics and less time caring about the blandly two-dimensional narrative. That said, the visual artistry and bold color palette compensate for many shortcomings, and Beatty’s movie remains a testament to the lasting potency of old-school practical filmmaking in the modern era. If only he’d allowed the character more room to breathe away from the comic-page window-frame.

Dick Tracy Gameplay:

Unlike Days of Thunder, I recall having firsthand experience with the licensed video game product known as Dick Tracy. Before I get into my contemporary experience with the game, let’s revisit my feelings from 1990.

warren beatty shampoo

Warren Beatty in Shampoo best summarizes the dead look in my eye after renting Dick Tracy for the NES.

By this point in 1990, Sega had already released its 16-bit, next generation console. (Nintendo’s 16-bit console would not arrive until 1991.) By the end of the year, I’d turned my attention away from buying new NES games because I’d begun scrimping and saving to purchase the Sega Genesis. (That was a lot of mowed lawns in 1990 dollars.) I rented rather than bought most games at this point. The late-era NES decline in overall quality began as developers turned their attention toward the 16-bit future.

So I rented Dick Tracy. I returned it before it was due back at the video store.

dick tracy NES

Dick Tracy belongs to that thankfully forgotten variety of games called “unnecessarily hard as balls,” or #UHAB for short. You begin as comic book Dick Tracy, not as Warren Beatty Dick Tracy. This happened for a couple of reasons. In order for the game to immediately capitalize on the film’s expected box office supremacy, it would have been in development long before story or script availability. Second, can you imagine a game in which you control an 8-bit Warren Beatty? This opens up a world of possibilities. 8-bit John Reed from Reds. 8-bit John McCabe from McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Bud Stamper from Splendor in the Grass.

As Dick Tracy, you must solve crimes. You receive one clue and then you must drive out into the city, avoiding rooftop snipers and other cars, in order to follow up on said clues. Now, since this is a #UHAB game, you only get one life, and each sniper bullet or contact with another car takes you down a 1/2 health star. Did I mention that there are snipers on just about every other rooftop and your car does nothing to protect you? Sure, the car shoots, but it only shoots straight ahead (where there’s — with one exception — nothing at which to shoot) and all the snipers shoot at 45-degree angles! I admire Dick’s steadfast determination to solve these crimes, but maybe his time would have been better spent ridding the city of its rampant sniper infestation.

Dick Tracy NES

If you avoid the snipers (and oncoming traffic) long enough to find the next clue (without a map screen or reasonable sense of direction), you’ll enter a building and begin the side-scrolling portion of the game. Here you’ll realize that while Dick Tracy might have a nimble mind, he’s largely incapable of avoiding oncoming fire because of his lethargic movement, which makes sense in real life, but makes a platform game intolerable. Your best tactic is to run straight at every goon, fists flailing, and hope for the best.

You have a gun. That’s nice for awhile, but of course you’ll run out of bullets. Plus, it’s far more fun to punch people so that they bounce around the screen like a pinball with the super punch power-up. And because you’re goody-two-shoes Dick Tracy if you shoot an unarmed goon, you also lose some life! Yeah! You have to wait until they shoot you to know if they’ve got a gun or not. DID I MENTION YOU ONLY HAVE 4 STARS OF LIFE?!

dick tracy nes

When you run out of stars, OOPS! No continues. No more lives. You have to get all 4 clues without dying. There are life-restoring power ups, but they’re rare and it’s not obvious how to use them. Also, apparently you can restore stars by going back to the police station. SURE! If you can get past the snipers to get there on 1/2 star!

Some games are fun by virtue of their difficulty. They reward with fair obstacles and continued progress through the game. Not so with Dick. The game mechanics — the poor driving, the awkward side-scrolling platform gameplay, the inability to continue — all contribute to my visceral and lasting memory of Dick Tracy the NES game as a complete and worthless pain in the ass.

With infinite patience you could theoretically pick off each sniper by getting out of the car and shooting them on foot. You could. They don’t respawn, but this would take ages. And keep in mind there are four more mysteries/levels to solve in order to beat this game. With another round of infinite patience, you could learn the patterns of attack in the platform segments and eventually track down all four clues and finally arrest your target suspect.

On the other hand, you could also just give it to some annoying kid that you really hate and hope they suffer as much as you did.

My Gameplay Video:

I stepped up my gameplay videography this time around and added a little commentary. I really didn’t want to do one of those angry gameplay videos, because “rage” seems to be the default setting for terrible retro game design. Since we’re dealing strictly with licensed game properties, we already know the game’s going to be terrible. There’s no surprises so let’s just play it as it lies. I needed a supplement to go along with this feature. So we’ll see how it goes and if its worth the effort.

Difficulty: 

Days of Thunder was hard, but generally mindless racetrack circling. Dick Tracy is one of the quintessential UHABs, a legendary time suck that rewards only with blinding, white-hot rage and frustration.

dick tracy nes fail

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Innovation:

It sounds pretty good to find clues and investigate crimes like a real detective! Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego with platform elements. Appearances can be deceiving, however, especially in the world of licensed games. Consider 2011’s L.A. Noire the evolution of this brand of gaming. Even that merely provided the illusion of an open-world detective procedural.

The Modern and Wisened 30Hz Judgment: 

An improved version of Dick Tracy emerged for the Sega Genesis in 1991. The 16-bit visuals certainly helped make the game’s (although lesser) difficulty tolerable. Suggesting that the Genesis iteration was much improved probably won’t sell anyone on its 2017 playability, but if you had a hankering to revisit Dick Tracy, definitely go straight for the Genesis and the ability to use the tommy gun on a bunch of thugs that had it coming.

dick tracy sega genesis

As far as the NES version goes, well… if you must play it, like someone’s quite literally got a gun to your head, holding your children hostage, you must play this to save their life… take a Xanax and settle in for lazy gameplay mechanics and impossible frustration. Enjoy!

 

Verdict:

Children of today will wonder what the hell we were all thinking when 1930’s serial detective Dick Tracy was suddenly all over the place during the summer of 1990. Were we blinded by the yellow jacket? Swayed by omnipresent marketing? Wooed by intense primary colors? Probably. And it was fun while it lasted, though it lasted little more than a few months and enthusiasm had likely already waned by the release of the NES game.

Disney flat out overestimated the market for a new iteration of Dick Tracy, which had been wholly dormant since a terrible Saturday-morning cartoon in the 1960’s. Batman, meanwhile, had remained a pop-culture icon despite his theatrical hiatus.

Looking back on that summer, the would-be Dick Tracy takeover never really happened. The Hollywood marketing machine manufactured a paper zeitgeist. The film received a mixed reception and a lower than expected box office tally. It’s $167 million fell well short of Batman‘s $250 million. And though talks of a Dick Tracy 2 simmered, Beatty claims that the sequel never happened because of a Tribune Media lawsuit.

Revisiting Beatty’s film I gained a new appreciation for the technically magnificent rendering of a live action comic-book world. I recommend giving the film another look. Leave the rest of the hype, game included, for archaeologists to study when they uncover the 1990’s archives and wonder what the hell we were all doing with our lives in the thoroughly confused year of 1990.

Based on conversations I’ve had during the last week, the movie remains a nostalgic benchmark. The film (and Disney’s marketing) imprinted on all of us. As kids of a certain age we’d quite literally never seen anything like it in 1990.

retro gaming licensed to kill

Licensed to Kill returns in a couple of weeks when I once again consider the merits of a game that should have been forgotten. For each LICENSED TO KILL column, I’ll play another licensed game and revisit the corresponding film or source material. I’ll play the game for a minimum of an hour — no matter how excruciating that experience might be. You vote on the titles I play. I suffer the consequences.

Past columns: Days of Thunder (NES)

31 Days of Horror 2017

31 Days of Horror: 2017

Halloween brings out the best and the worst of us as obsessive moviewatchers. I can only speak for myself, but I imagine my experience mirrors many of yours. When October rolls around (now mid-September because the 31 horror movies in 31 days doesn’t jive with adult schedules), horror movies dominate all channels. The wife shrugs her shoulders. Hide the more explicit DVD cases from the kids. You start arguing about sequels and franchises and Argento vs. Bava vs. Fulci.

My wife joins in when I can find a nice, palatable mid-grade horror film. In recent years, she’s joined me for films like Tremors and The Fog and comedies like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. (Though, she still tells me she’s nervously scanning the mist for ghost pirates whenever a nice fog rolls through the Pittsburgh hills.)

Each year for the past four years, I’ve embarked upon the journey to watch at least 31 horror movies by the end of October. Last year I joined @ElCinemonster’s Hoop-Tober challenge on Letterboxd.com. Each year he lays down a few challenges to help guide the viewing of his monstrous minions. This year I’m again combining my Cinema Shame Horror Shame-a-thon with the Hoop-Tober Challenge 4.0 to perpetuate the most unwieldy title in the history of movie blogging and watching.

Welcome to the @CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watchpile/Shame-a-thon 31 Days of Horror 2017

31 Days of Horror 2017

Let’s lay down some rules for any lunatics that might want to play the home version of the 31 Days of Horror 2017.

Pick 31 never-before-seen (or unwatched DVD purchases) horror movies — “horror” is broadly defined as anything containing elements of the horror genre. So, for example, I’ve count the Abbott & Costello monster films in the past because of the classic movie monsters. Watch as many as you can stomach during your “month” of October.

I’m air-quoting “month” because, as I mentioned earlier, I’m borrowing @ElCinemonster’s notion that we’re busy goddamn people and 31 days is just not a reasonable duration for busy people to watch 31 horror movies. He’s beginning his “month” on September 15th. I plan to do the same. I hit 33 last year(!) and while I don’t expect to top that total I aim to match.

I’m going to pluck as many movies as possible from my Watch Pile (any film I already own that hasn’t been watched). I’ve been making a more concerted effort to watch more movies than I buy. The worthy remain. The ones I don’t see myself watching again hit eBay. I’ll note the outcome of each disc in my blurb.

And speaking of blurbs… after each movie, I’ll toss up a mini-review and a 30Hz rating that will correspond to my review on Letterboxd.com. The review may or may not contain any actual insight. The reviews are the part of this project that will leave you a quivering pile of bloody goo. And now for the more specific Hoop-Tober demonic hurdles, courtesy of @ElCinemonster.

6 sequels (mix-and-match. 6 total)
6 countries
6 decades
6 films from before 1970
6 films from the following: Carpenter, Raimi, Whale, Browning, Craven, Tom Holland (mix-and-match, or all one)
3 people eating people (non-zombie)
1 Hammer Film
1 Romero film
1 terrible oversight aka OVERT SHAME! (use this link, filter out the films you’ve seen and picked the highest rated film from the list that you can get ahold of)

And 2 Tobe Hooper Films (There must ALWAYS be a Hooper film)

-review them all.(eek)

Clearly one film can satisfy multiple criteria. Viewing and reviewing will begin at 12:01am CST on Sept 15th.

I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 2017 31 Days Of Horror CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.

31 days of horror 2017

Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 22016 

*rewatch

  1. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master
  2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child
  3. Brain Damage
  4. Caltiki: The Immortal Monster
  5. Cannibal! The Musical
  6. Christine
  7. Death Walks in High Heels
  8. Eating Raoul
  9. Friday the 13th
  10. Friday the 13th Part II
  11. House*
  12. House 2*
  13. House 3
  14. House 4
  15. Fox with the Velvet Tail
  16. Invaders from Mars
  17. Mill of the Stone Women
  18. Posession
  19. Prince of Darkness
  20. Shocker
  21. Spontaneous Combustion
  22. Suddenly in the Dark
  23. The Devil Doll
  24. The Dismembered
  25. The Green Butchers
  26. The Hound of the Baskervilles*
  27. The Wife Killer
  28. Spider (Zirneklis)
  29. The Velvet Vampire
  30. What Have You Done to Solange?
  31. Two Evil Eyes
  32. The Initiation
  33. The Fan (Der Fan)
  34. The Invisible Man (familiar comfort horror)*

the invisible man 31 days of horror 2017

What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hoop-Tober challenge, I’ll link you in the header for my posts. Just leave a note with a link in the comments. Together we shall overcome… or we’ll be the loser pumped off in the first act to establish indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.

days of thunder nes fail screen

Days of Thunder (NES): Licensed to Kill

days of thunder NESDays of Thunder (NES)

Vitals:

Released: October 1990 by Beam Software/Mindscape on the NES, C64 and PC. Gameboy in 1992.

The Australian developer Beam Software was responsible for a handful of licensed game titles in the NES and Genesis years including Back to the Future, Back to the Future II & III, and True Lies. I mention those titles specifically because there’s a fair chance we’ll be seeing Beam Software again in the near future.

As far as I can tell, Days of Thunder was only the second NASCAR game released for home consoles after Richard Petty’s Talladega (C64) in 1985. Without having played Talladega, I’ve got to believe this was at least a naturally progressive step forward in the genre as the cars in the former title appear to be squashed turtles on a remedial mini-golf course.

Days of Thunder’s October 1990:

  • Tim Berners-Lee begins work on the World Wide Web.
  • East and West Germany unify into a single Germany.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
  • Janet Jackson released the 7th of 8 singles from her landmark album Rhythm Nation 1814 – “Love Will Never Do (Without You)”
  • Steven Seagal’s Marked for Death finished first at the box office for 3 out of 4 weekends in October 1990.

 

The Original:

days of thunder poster

Opening in June of 1990, Tony Scott’s Days of Thunder grossed $82million at the domestic box office, good enough for 13th place that year. Sandwiched between Presumed Innocent and Another 48 Hrs, the film performed modestly and was considered a relative failure… yet left a lasting impression of pre-pubescent boys everywhere. Most contemporary reviews reduced Days of Thunder to a Top Gun rehash, calling it “Top Gun on wheels” or similar. This owes, of course, to the film’s primary characteristic as a “Tom Cruise picture” which by 1990 had become a genre all of its own.

If I had to describe the “Tom Cruise picture” I’d break it down to a few basic components: a good-hearted but unbroken and rambunctious protagonist comes under the guidance of an elder mentor and must overcome an ersatz villain or false obstacles in order to test his mettle in a real-world scenario. See: Cocktail, The Color of Money, Top Gun. Also, someone probably dies.

While there’s plenty to criticize in Days of Thunder (dialogue, regurgitated narrative, stock characters), there’s also a lot of fun to be had… with a few concessions. Even in 1990, Days of Thunder felt like a silly bit of Hollywood fluff. Time has not improved that perception; it has, however, given us time to better appreciate the silly bits of Hollywood fluff that the industry churned out during the latter part of the 1980’s and early 1990’s.

Days of Thunder 1990

These years represented the beginning of the star-vehicle decline and the last years that mid-budget action films retained a large segment of the box office. By 2000, studios had readjusted their focus to tent-pole blockbusters. Looking back, I harbor much nostalgia for this era of filmmaking — a time when films aimed to entertain without exceptionally lofty aspirations toward global omnipresence. I’d argue (perhaps futilely) that this style of filmmaking most closely resembles the 1930’s and 40’s, when Hollywood groomed star personas and often traded in face-value entertainment.

Days of Thunder subscribes to that variety of flash and glam spectacle led by the dictionary definition of a movie star in his prime. The romanticized roar of the engine. Sun glistening off freshly-painted automobiles. Narrative reduced to the fire of competitive spirit. Great fun — if you approach the film with the right mindset.

Looking to find defenses of the film across the web, I stumbled upon this blurb from none other than Quentin Tarantino:

Yeah, yeah, you laugh but seriously I’m a big fan. To me Days of Thunder is the movie Grand Prix and Le Mans should have been. Sure, it had a big budget, big stars and a big director in Tony Scott, but it had the fun of those early AIP movies. I just don’t think it works if you take the whole thing too seriously.

days of thunder fan quentin tarantino

Days of Thunder fan Quentin Tarantino

Days of Thunder Gameplay:

Like the film, you, the inexperienced Cole Trickle, have been hired to drive the #46 City Chevrolet. Victory means winning the Winston Cup over your closest rivals Russ Wheeler and Rowdy Burns. Failure means therapy for sad Cole Trickle.

You begin the game at Daytona Beach. As you might expect any NASCAR inspired game involves cars going around and around and around a big oval. The only break in going around and around and around the big oval is when you need to pull into the pits for repairs and gasoline.

Remember when in the Top Gun video game adaptation when you repeatedly failed to land your F16 on the aircraft carrier? It’s a lot like that. In Days of Thunder you can pit improperly which results in a total fly by. Meanwhile you’re screaming at blocky collection of pixels to fill your gas tank or light themselves on fire. It’s a totally healthy mindset.

days of thunder NES game screen

Once I figured out how to pit, I had a little bit of fun with this. And by “little,” I mean I didn’t throw the game through the stone blocks in my basement. Take that for what you will.

Pitting involves slamming on the breaks and holding B when you see the “PITS” sign, which abruptly appears along the stretch. Without a quick Google search I could not have figured this out. Even with this information, however, the first few times were complete misfires.

At last you arrive in the pit and now you must control the pit crew. Again with no idea what’s going on, you and the pit crew will just sit there shrugging. You have to jack the car up by pressing B. BUT WAIT! You have to have the correct crew member selected otherwise nothing happens. Once you get the car jacked up, you have to select the next guy to fix the tire. But don’t make him fix the tire too hard or he’ll put the bad tire back on again. Beat yourself with the tire iron, buddy. Once that side’s done you have to take your jack guy all the way around to the other side of the car to repeat the process. Because you have to control every action, pitting feels like half of the entire game. Eventually you’re back on the track.

Hit 3 o’clock on your tachometer and let your car purr, avoiding walls and other cars. God forbid you should actually bump another car because then your engine will break and you’ll have to pit again. I managed to survive Daytona Beach and advance to the second track, Atlanta, after about an hour of play time. By the time I reached Atlanta I’d lost all patience for turning left and yelling at my pit crew to do more than one job at a time so I gladly removed the Days of Thunder cartridge and moved on with my day.

My Gameplay Video:

When I recorded this video, I decided I wanted it to end sooner rather than later because the only thing more boring than playing a driving game that involves endless loops is watching someone playing a driving game with endless loops. I ended the suffering by not pitting so you can all witness sad Cole Trickle in real time. I also subbed in the original score for the 8-bit bleeps and bloops. You’re welcome. 

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Difficulty: 

This game is hard. Beginners won’t likely make it out of Daytona. After a couple of failed pitstops, they’ll rip the game out of the console and never look back. Once you figure out the tachometer and acceleration mechanics and the pitting issue you’ll have a chance to finish a race. Not win — just finish. You’ll still try four more times after that, Your reward? A bigger track with twice as many laps and a slightly different color palette. UGH. (Did I mention that there’s a “glitch” in the game that makes it impossible to win one race? I’m not even joking.) Most likely you’ll see that aforementioned screen featuring sad panda Cole Trickle over and over and over and over:

days of thunder nes fail screen

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Innovation:

Days of Thunder (NES) does add the mystique of a season-long simulated battle for the cup. It’s limited, of course, by the lack of the NES to save progress. Remember the Castlevania codes to return to an in-progress game? Junior cryptography training. The illusion of organic storytelling within the NASCAR season has its charms — except that you’ve likely seen the movie and know how this is all “supposed” to play out and goddammit the Tom Cruise charisma can’t be rendered in 8-bits.

The Modern and Wisened 30Hz Judgment: 

Modern gamers would have no patience for this nonsense. in 2011 an updated version of the game appeared on the Playstation 3 and Xbox360 consoles. Critics said the game lacked any attention to real world detail or driving physics. At least you didn’t spent half the game in the pit. Developers still fell back on 21-year-old film branding to gloss over half-baked driving mechanics as if kids were still clamoring to experience the Cole Trickle shenanigans in pixellated form.

While the original Days of Thunder game does employ the brand to some advantage, this could have been a NASCAR simulation about any old Trickle — be it Dick or Cole. The fact is that old driving simulations don’t hold up (unless thy name is Gran Turismo) and this one was never any good to begin with. After 60-70 minutes of overall time spent with Days of Thunder, I was more than happy to put this cartridge back into the bin for misfit games and look forward to my next Licenced to Kill Challenge.

In the meantime, I might revisit some R.C. Pro Am or Rad Racer — NES racing games that, you know, don’t require you to STOP RACING after every four laps for a two-minute pit stop.

Verdict:

Give the Days of Thunder movie another chance with a modern, fresh perspective, but the game’s the pits.

retro gaming licensed to kill

Licensed to Kill returns in a couple of weeks when I once again consider the merits of a game that should have been forgotten. For each LICENSED TO KILL column, I’ll play another licensed game and revisit the corresponding film or source material. I’ll play the game for a minimum of an hour — no matter how excruciating that experience might be. You vote on the titles I play. I suffer the consequences.

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