I felt wholly confident that I’d seen House of Wax. This is, until I watched House of Wax. Parts seemed quite familiar. But then again… maybe just because I’d seen the original Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) more recently. But Vincent Price knocking off those that had done him wrong in a creepy mask! Or was that just misappropriated images from The Abominable Dr. Phibes. It wasn’t until I saw one certain face that I knew with 100% certainty that I’d seen House of Wax (1953) long, long ago. As a wee lad, no more than 10 or so, the paddleball fellow left an indelible impression:
I didn’t know at the time, however, that I was missing the 3D effect. He was just a guy slapping his paddle ball at me for some reason. Non-sequitur much? The movie takes a detour to watch this guy. How bizarre! How absurd! I was minding my own business watching a Vincent Price horror movie and BLAM! suddenly this guy appears. I remembered nothing about House of Wax… except for the film’s intermission… but I knew I really enjoyed it. The movie, not necessarily the intermission.
That’s as bizarre as saying Ben-Hur‘s great! But I only remember the fanfare. (It is a lovely fanfare.)
Today I’d like to flip this conversation. House of Wax is a fine film. Now, let’s talk about the guy in the intermission and how or why this scene doesn’t feel like other cloying scenes of 3D-sploitation. The most basic motive remains exploiting the 3D technology. A paddle ball springing into the audience. It does so without furthering the narrative, but the scene boasts more complexity than mere visual showmanship or gimmickry.
As the entertainer wanders and torments/titillates with his miraculous rubber paddle ball, the gathered crowd of course oohs and awwws about this skill, but also about the mysterious wax museum. Time has passed in the film since we cut to the intermission. The crowd and the entertainer serves up a bundle of backgrounded exposition, catching us up with the publicly-known details about the emergence and prowess of this wax museum.
I’m pretty sure that scenes devoted to conversational exposition were outlawed by the Geneva Convention… but they never said we couldn’t have a paddle ball sideshow.
One final point about the brilliant eccentricity of this particular scene. House of Wax doesn’t merely present this as a brief gag, a one-off dalliance. Instead, serving as an ersatz intermission, the showman proceeds for nearly two minutes, slapping his paddle balls at onlookers (and the viewing audience, of course) and catching us all up on the events we missed when House of Wax cut to black and went yadda yadda yadda.
For those curious about the inclusion of an intermission in a film that clocks in at just under 90 minutes, the projectionist had to change both reels at the same time due to the nature of the projected 3D image. Each projector was dedicated to one of the stereoscopic images — whereas a normal 2D film would just jump from one projector to the other during a reel change with no gap between reels.
House of Wax (1953) entertained just as I remembered. Vincent Price presents a vengeful maniac that acts as a precursor to his more flambuoyant and showstopping villain in The Abominable Dr. Phibes. Creepy and atmospheric with a touch of devilish black humor.
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade – 1980’s Country of origin – India
I can barely put thoughts down about horror movies at this point. The anxiety I’m feeling about the realtime horrors of electing He-Who-Shalt-Not-Be-Named has crippled my ability to function as even a remedial bl-gger. I hoped getting back up on the 31 Days of Horror horse (6 more to go!) would place some psychological distance between me and this horrific political cycle. Yet here I am… and a sexytime Bollywood vampire movie can’t even get me in the mood.
And if a Bollywood vampire/musical/sex kitten/mystical warlock movie can’t get you in the mood, what will? WHAT WILL?? Full blown, 31 Days of Horror impotence.
Still, let’s give it a shot.
Okay… so a witch cult hangs out in the forest worshipping some horned deity thing. There’s also a lusty man-sucking vampire temptress. And then a local mayor sends an agent of change to take care of said man-sucking vampire temptress. Well, when that works, the witch cult leader gets bent out of shape and vows revenge. Which seems pretty okay until some dude drives the mayor’s daughter right through the same woods where the witch cult hangs out. Surprise! The witch cult guy snags the daughter and transfers the soul of the old man-sucking vampire temptress into the daughter’s body because he’s clearly seen The Exorcist. And that’s roughly the first 30 minutes of a 150-minute movie.
Your ability to comprehend Veerana relies on your familiarity with Bollywood movies overall. I could tell you that Veerana is a movie about a sex-kitten vampire with intermittent musical numbers, but would you fully understand the consequences?
It is true, of course, that Indian movies have had far more people chasing each other around the trees than kissing, and that is primarily because of the dictates of the dreaded censor board, the cheerless cinematic embodiment of the Nehruvian ideal of big government intruding into every aspect of national life, which made directors move the camera away at strategic moments to two flowers touching each other.
The Times ran this article in 2013. Veerana opened in 1988. Keep this in mind when merging the above information with the narrative synopsis for Veerana on IMDB: “A beautiful young girl, unfortunately possessed from her childhood by a vengeful spirit, wanders around lonely places to seduce and kill people and thus, gradually becoming lost into a dark world of revenge and lust.”
Yet, all that said, Veerana is all about sex. Coy flirting; questionable notions of male machismo; fawning, fainting females; and the far more overt vampirism (which is itself an inherently sexualized activity). Censorship in 1988 manifests in juvenile courting sequences with choreographed song and dance featuring (the abovementioned “strategic” camera movement) before contact… and meticulously placed sideboob and come-hither eyes.
Jarring cuts, off-screen sexual contact and teenage handholding populate Veerana, but the film’s horror never really feels suppressed. Jasmine, the predatory vampire, preys on the weaknesses of horny men. No punches pulled. Actions are clear, kills are unquestionable.
The witchcraft and black magic elements lifted from Indian mythology offer plenty of opportunity for horrific latex masks and practical effects. Looming idols and ghastly temples. The low-budget nature of the film adds rather than detracts from our enjoyment. The remedial camerawork offers plenty of opportunity for a giggle. Within the opening minutes you’ll note awkward tracking shots and inept framing. If you can abide the ways inept filmmaking creeps into Veerana, you’ll likely take immense pleasure in this oddity — an oddity at least to our Western concepts of horror cinema.
Most jarring is the waffling between sunshiney happy time Bollywood song and dance and the more horrific elements. Two films have been mashed together to satisfy our need for all varieties of entertainment. Veerana is an automat filled with simple cinematic pleasures. Slapstick. Foppery. Sexy times. Minimally gory bits. Incompetent storytelling. Writhing, barely-clad sex-kitten vampirism. Meta-movie within a movie commentary.
Surprings amounts of skin and overt innuendo populate Veerana despite the obvious censor demands. Though, in my Bollywood experience, innuendo has never been a problem. Playful physical contact, however, becomes more problematic when your movie requires vampirism. Have a strong cocktail and enjoy this ridiculous vaudevillian trip to the sub-continent.
Nature of Shame: Unseen Tobe Hooper/Stephen King Horror Movie Mini-Series!
Hoop-tober Challenge Checklist: Decade – 1970’s
Stephen King Adaptation
#26. Salem’s Lot
Fun fact: I didn’t know Salem’s Lot was a mini-series when I purchased it. I didn’t know it when I popped it into the Blu-ray player. I didn’t recognize it was a mini-series when I eclipsed the 60-minute mark and not much had happened. At around 80 minutes, I grabbed the Blu-ray case and stared into its plastic soul.
ME: WHAT THE $%#$ ARE YOU?
SALEM’S LOT: I’m Salem’s Lot.
ME: THANKS. WHEN DOES SOMETHING, YOU KNOW, HORRIFIC HAPPEN?
SALEM’S LOT: When do you want something horrific to happen?
SALEM’S LOT: Patience.
WAIT. HOW MUCH LONGER CAN I POSSIBLY REQUIRE PATIENCE?!? IS THIS THE HORROR EQUIVALENT OF ‘ANDY WARHOL’S EMPIRE’??? I HAVE SOMEWHERE TO BE IN TWENTY MINUTES.
SALEM’S LOT: You’ll have to cancel your plans.
ME: I CAN’T CANCEL PICKING UP MY DAUGHTER FROM PRE-SCHOOL.
SALEM’S LOT: Have you checked your priorities lately?
ME: HOW LONG ARE YOU ANYWAY?
SALEM’S LOT: I’m exactly 184 minutes.
ME: THE HELL YOU ARE!
[checks back of case]
The hell you are.
SALEM’S LOT: Have I ever done you wrong?
ME: You told me to leave my 4yo daughter at pre-school.
SALEM’S LOT: True. I did do that. My bad.
ME: [mashes stop button] I’LL SEE YOU LATER.
SALEM’S LOT: I know you will.
Once I finally came around to the mini-series pace, Salem’s Lot revealed the simple pleasures of a slow-burn horror story and rewarded with a truly memorable vampirian villain. I couldn’t help but compare Salem’s Lot to my recent experience with Stranger Things. Beyond the superficial connection of being a mini-series, I found myself researching contemporary 1979 response, seeking an idea about how the film was accepted upon release, how it was consumed. I found little first-hand information. If you were old enough to have watched Salem’s Lot firsthand, comment about your experience. Was this a must-see event? Was there hype and expectation? I was only 2 at the time, so I don’t have anything to add to the conversation.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.