Joe Versus the Volcano: The Cult and the Magnificent Disaster

In July of 2002, Tom Hanks sat next to me at a round table in the conference hall of the Ritz-Carlton Chicago and talked about the particular demands of acting in comedies versus dramas. I asked this question because I’d been assigned the story, but I wasn’t especially interested in his response. It was, after all, being recorded on cassette tape. I could transcribe it all on the plane back home. Naturally he’d focused on the rewards of acting in dramatic fare (the specifics elude me all these years later) and the opportunity to act opposite Paul Newman. He said all the things he needed to say because Tom Hanks was (and still is, as far as I know) the consummate professional Hollywood actor.

Part of that consummate professionalism required him to promote his current film and say glowing, positive, effervescent things about Road to Perdition. The last thing anyone expected him to say was that this gig was merely the culmination of his master plan to create a gleaming, golden coffee table with Oscar-statue legs for his sitting room. Tom Hanks punched his time card like a pro; I had amateur stenciled across my forehead. I hoped I’d get to ask a second question before getting sandbagged by everyone else’s agenda.

Little did I know I was about to get sandbagged by my own agenda. I’d written for InSite Magazine for almost a year at this point. My editor took the choice assignments while I reviewed the latest Not Another Teen Movie or Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. Just a couple months earlier, my editor had handed me my first talent interview because, he said to the best of my recollection, “I handled bad movies with the respect they deserved.” I still have no idea if that was an actual compliment. As a 23-year-old writer who believed quite highly in himself and pined for any shred of (due) enthusiasm over my writing, I stitched that merit badge on my canvas messenger bag.

The interview? Quite predictably I’d been tasked with discussing a C-grade movie, albeit with a notable commodity. Fresh off Rushmore Jason Schwartzman made a pond dredge teen movie called Slackers. In case the “pond dredge” comment wasn’t leading enough, I’ll say it plain: Slackers stunk. When he made a joke about my Gap jacket, I’d been so focused on obscuring how much I hated the film that I failed to come up with any rebuttal.

I still regret the zinger I never made. I replace the tags so not to intimidate my interview subjects with the posh lifestyle of a tabloid-format journalist. Maybe not the ultimate burn, but still better than a nervous laugh that surely betrayed the fact that I took his crack about “having that same jacket” seriously for an embarrassing number of seconds. Welcome to the business, you’ve just been roasted by a snarky actor two years your junior. I just wanted to conduct the interview and vacate the hotel suite before someone faxed him my D-grade review. It also wouldn’t be the last time I regretted questions or thoughts left unsaid in an interview.

Determined to not repeat past failures, failed to hear the entirety of Mr. Hanks’ response before firing off a second question, or rather a leading statement, which was really the question I’d been dying to ask all along. I said, “I actually consider it a shame that you’ve turned your attention away from comedy because I consider Joe Versus the Volcano the most important movie you’ve made.”

He paused, befuddled perhaps, and regarded this petulant whippersnapper (as I’m sure Tom Hanks’ internal monologue uses words like “whippersnapper”) with some sense of dismay and concern, brow furrowed at a gently sloping 45-degree angle. Was I confused? Impaired? Should security be called? Who was I to suggest that some silly movie he made way back in 1990 was better than award bait like Philadelphia, better than Saving Private Ryan and Forrest Gump, better even than the movie we’d all just watched, which was the most impactful movie in the history of cinema for the duration of this particular gladhand? Surely I’d prefer to assuage his ego about his latest most important accomplishment.

Ultimately, he laughed and thanked me for the sentiment, but did not specifically address my claim about Joe Versus the Volcano before others around the table began lobbing their favorite comedies like holy hand grenades from the trenches, making sure the actor had duly noted each of their picks, all of which seemed like an entire career ago. Someone mentioned Splash and Bachelor Party. Big came up. One of the guys even dropped The Man with One Red Shoe. I’d love to recast the table with at least one woman (because equal opportunity memoirism matters) so we’ll say this hypothetical woman mentioned Joe Dante’s The ‘burbs because The ‘burbs is also terminally underrated and this fictional ‘she’ would have had the good sense to make mention of it.

Nobody else, however, corroborated or acknowledged my Joe Versus the Volcano sentiment.

As our time with the actor ended, and as Mr. Hanks stood to move on to the next table, I asked him to sign my Road to Perdition pressbook. I’d never asked anything of any of the dozen celebrities I’d interviewed. These were just men and women doing their jobs who also happened to be household names. We were just doing ours. Some of us even got paid for it, but nobody knew our names. All of the other on-screen talent I’d interviewed had duly reinforced their celebrity status. Lists of things that couldn’t be asked, warnings about certain lines of questioning, untimely entrances and unusual water concoctions in pitchers provided by personal staffmembers.

Tom Hanks fulfilled every fantasy about Tom Hanks — cordial and friendly and inclusive. He happily signed my pressbook and all others at the table. He treated each of us like old friends and then abruptly exited our lives. Yet he never calls. He never writes.

On my flight home I began to transcribe the interview and I finally stepped out from behind the glow of conversing with Tom Hanks. I recognized how deftly he’d sidestepped my comment about Joe Versus the Volcano by responding modestly and without haste, thereby inviting others to chime in and dilute the precision of the question. A diabolical counterattack. His lack of displayed ego, coupled with the enthusiasm of the gathered round table allowed my Joe Versus the Volcano comment to dissipate without a trace, much like the movie itself in March of 1990.

joe versus the volcano on VHS

If Tom Hanks didn’t see beyond the lackluster box office numbers, the confused moviegoing masses, and the unshakable scarlet “B” for bomb; what hope did anyone else have? Did he not think as highly of it as I’d assumed? Who else out there saw Joe Versus the Volcano for what it really was? Surely he could see that the real bomb wasn’t Joe Versus the Volcano at all, but The Bonfire of the Vanities, which kindly supplanted Joe as the headlining disaster on Mr. Hanks’ resume.

My mind raced with all the questions I didn’t ask, that I couldn’t ask. If only I’d had ten minutes to clarify his stance on this very important issue. I’d ask him about John Patrick Shanley’s script, about working with him as a first time director. How the chemistry between he and Meg Ryan eventually gave birth to the mega-hit Sleepless in Seattle. Did they see the eccentric beauty on the pages of the script? The novelty of philosophy? What registered with audiences beyond the jokes and face-value absurdity of a tribe of Celtic/Jewish/Roman/South Pacific islanders obsessed with orange soda and governed by Abe Vigoda needing a willing sacrifice to the Great Woo?

Alas, Joe Versus the Volcano remains an underseen gem that seems to just keep carrying on in the margins of film appreciation. To call it a cult film feels rather anomalous. Joe Versus the Volcano was a $25million Hollywood production fronted by two of 1990’s biggest stars that one and a half times recouped its budget, but it still can’t shake that stigma of failure.

The term “cult” has typically been reserved for films such as Eraserhead, Repo Man, Donnie Darko, weird movies, beyond the fringe movies, movies that evaded commercial acceptance because they shunned mass appeal in favor of some sort of eccentric or singular vision – be it a failed artistic enterprise or misunderstood genius. The term encompasses massive misfires that have come to be enjoyed ironically and films that took a circuitous route to find a small, but devoted fanbase. Rarely does the term “cult” find assignation on a big budget mainstream semi-success mislabeled a bust. It was viewed by a great many and still written off as an ephemeral trifle. Vincent Canby, the longtime critic for the New York Times likened its misfire to that of Howard the Duck and called it “theoretically comic” and a “mixture of comedy, fantasy and mock-dirge.” He wasn’t alone in that sentiment.

joe versus the volcano title card

Joe went to work. Joe hated every minute of it. His only escape from this circle of hell was the recognition of his own imminent death. The acknowledgment of his own mortality, grants Joe Banks a second chance at life. The most damning thing about Joe Versus the Volcano was that it just wasn’t what anyone expected because it wasn’t really like anything we’d ever seen. The film’s marketing embraced the rom-commy coupling of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan because they didn’t know how to construct a marketing campaign that sold anything but the reputation of its stars.

It looked like puerile comedy. Many critics likewise called it a simplistic oddity or a trifle. I’m always been unable to fully grasp how so many critics seemed to have watched a completely different film. Now, having written about film on and off for the last twenty years, I understand more fully how something so stunningly original could slip through the cracks and become misunderstood. Rotten Tomatoes didn’t exist in 1990, but the critical consensus still imposed its will upon the box office, leading all of its witnesses to the same conclusion.

Would a trifle of a film dare to examine commercialism, the soul-crushing burdens of adulthood? Could a “flat” film deftly champion spiritualism while undermining organized religion? It astounds me that a movie with so much individualism and eccentricity could be read as having nothing interesting to say. Joe Versus the Volcano wasn’t a silly romantic comedy as advertised in the trailer, as expected by everyone that walked into the theater; it was a darkly comic fable about the value of agnosticism, about using the awareness of mortality as raison d’être

joe versus the volcano

These misconceptions have hindered the film’s rediscovery more than any other factor. “Odd,” “bizarre,” “weird” – these are terms that pique a cinephile’s curiosity about movies on the fringe. Terms like “trite” or “flat” or worst of all, “boring” sentence a film to the very real cinematic purgatory reserved for something like that Matthew Broderick vehicle Out on a Limb from 1992. (Stephen Holden correctly called it “frantically unfunny.”) The ripples from which stopped being felt the minute that VHS tape disappeared from the New Release section of your video store. It slipped into total obscurity because it was unfunny, but not incompetent or bold enough in its failure to warrant curiosity.

It’s a very real possibility that John Patrick Shanley’s film could never have found success. For years I bemoaned the film’s reception and how it likely derailed Shanley’s film career. After all, we want these daring writers and filmmakers to be rewarded for their efforts. These films mean something special to us, so why shouldn’t they duly reward their creators? But what if John Patrick Shanley never anticipated or even craved commercial success? In comments about his experience in Hollywood, the playwright has suggested that the filmmaking gig was not an ideal match for his singular personality. He called the moviemaking industry “antithetical” to his nature and seemed more than happy to abandon it and return to writing and directing for the stage – a situation that the perceived failure of Joe Versus the Volcano surely expedited.

In a perfect world, our favorite films make billions of dollars, and studios give people like John Patrick Shanley unlimited budgets to make any film they want in perpetuity. Shanley’s Academy Award for writing Moonstruck, allowed him to make Joe Versus the Volcano, an eccentric passion project. And just like that his meteoric and circuitous career trajectory from playwright to failed Amblin Entertainment-backed auteur and back to playwright had been completed in a little under three years.

Alas, it is and forever will be the way of the world. When movies dare to be something beyond expectation, they risk commercial failure. Great movies often, however, eventually find their audience. Many people forget that John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner were both box office disasters before they became certifiable classics of their respective genres. Their only mistake was appearing in theaters the week after Spielberg released E.T.

Carpenter and Scott eventually found their audience, but I can’t necessarily say the same about Joe Versus the Volcano. Unlike those films, Joe wasn’t merely obscured by an unfortunate release date. While the specter of Pretty Woman looms large in the Joe Versus the Volcano story, I can’t actually blame the film’s relative obscurity on a Julia Roberts’ starmaking vehicle (although I desperately want to).

In the end, perhaps a comedy rooted so deeply in the philosophy of our very existence could never have hoped for anything but adoration from the cult of a few impassioned fans.

Joe Versus the Volcano opened the 2012 Ebertfest. That might even surprise the most devoted fans of the film. Roger Ebert had been one of film’s earliest champions. He wrote in advance of Joe’s screening “I continue to believe it deserves greater recognition, and cannot understand why I gave it 3.5 stars instead of 4.” Great films need champions and certain great films need even more championing.

This isn’t a call to right the egregious wrongs of a prior generation of moviegoers – this is a suggestion that Joe Versus the Volcano has something important to convey to all of us and maybe, just maybe, the world would be a better place if everyone had a copy of the movie of their shelf and took the heart the message contained within.

Yes. Joe Versus the Volcano deserves consideration alongside such quirky cinematic classics like Harvey or The Princess Bride. I believe this in my bone marrow. I also have to consider whether widespread notoriety or acceptance benefits every movie. Does Joe Versus the Volcano mean so much to me because it’s not widely considered a classic? How would my perception of the film change if everyone believed, as I do, that it’s a near-perfect modern masterpiece? Compare it to the aforementioned The Princess Bride, which is similarly quirky and magical and funny, but broadly consumable, whereas Joe attempts to make light of the human condition.

Assessing what makes Joe Versus the Volcano unique requires an evaluation about how we feel about life and death and religion and our ability to effect change – not exactly comfort viewing if you peel apart the film’s whimsical external layers. To those unwilling to take that plunge with Joe to appease the Great Woo, it makes perfect sense that the film would seem like trite, feather-lite entertainment. Joe Versus the Volcano has never been more relevant than it is today, but is a modern re-evaluation even possible when mainstream audiences seem more intent than ever to insulate themselves from meaning?

Some movies become cult films because they can’t be anything else. Does the art of being a cult film have more to do with the ways in which they connect so viscerally with a small percentage of people? Maybe Joe’s greatest purpose was this connection – this major importance to a minor few. I decided it was important to find out by digging into John Patrick Shanley’s philosophy, the reasons that certain people connect to the film so deeply and analyzing how my own affection has changed and evolved with my own greater perspective accumulated during the last 30 years.

This is the first of a multi-part series on Joe Versus the Volcano. If you’ve yet to take your first plunge into the volcano with Joe Banks, pick up the Warner Archive Blu-ray. Support Joe and the Archive. 

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

31 Days of Horror 2018: The Nail in the Coffin

It’s November 26th. I’ve written 18 reviews for my 31 Days of Horror. At the rate I’m writing these things I won’t be done by 2019. I don’t want that. You don’t want that. So let’s make some magic here tonight. I’m watching snow fall out my kitchen window and the house is quiet. The wife and kids are asleep, and I’m experiencing my own little Box of Matches moment. Box of Matches is a book written by the great and occasionally warped Nicholson Baker. In this instance, Baker examines the profundities of life through the smallest of actions. Each chapter is about a man who wakes up early, before the day has begun and experiences the stillness of life before his family rises. Each chapter begins with him making coffee and lighting a fire with one wooden match.

I don’t do “early,” so I’m having my Box of Matches moment just after midnight. And it would be serene if I didn’t have a 4-month-old kitten running around like a f’ing maniac. SERENITY NOW.

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)
#19. The Dark (1979)

Back on track. Time to bang out a whole mess of mini-movie reviews.

 

#20. The Devil Rides Out (1968)

devil rides out 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

I keep forgetting that this movie is called The Devil Rides Out so I keep watching it every so many years because I’m going senile.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
Terence Fisher
50th Anniversary

Based on my ability to forget this particular film, you’d think I’d have been regularly ravaged by boredom. Quite the contrary. These devil-raising, fire and brimstone, hell and fury witchhunter movies have a tendency to be rather droll and redundant. No offense witchhunter movie fans, but they’re generally just okay.

The Devil Rides Out runs scattershot and fills itself chockablock with pentagrams and rearing horses and spiders and car chases and the summoning a generic looking black dude with a wild bit of sorcery (which, if I’m being honest, always plays a little bizarro because wouldn’t you summon someone a little more… anomalous?). And in the center of it all you have Christopher Lee fighting Charles Gray and the forces of evil.

devil rides out 31 days of horror

Final Devil Rides Out Thoughts: 

It might need to regularly job my memory but I’m always glad I come back around. The Devil Rides Out always impresses and remains one of the most satisfying of all the films I always forget I’ve seen.

Availabilty:

For whatever stupid reason, the powers that be have refused to release The Devil Rides Out on a Region A Blu-ray, and the DVD is long OOP. All I can tell you is that you should be region-free so you can tell the gatekeepers of physical media to bugger off and order the affordable Region B UK Blu-ray from StudioCanal. (Rumblings suggest a stateside release is on the way because the massive acquisition of StudioCanal titles by Shout! Factory and Kino, but nothing as of yet has been announced.)

 

#21. The Swarm (1978)

the swarm 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

An unseen thing that I’m told I should watch. I remain skeptical.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

40th Anniversary
Flying Things Will Kill You

If you’ve ever watched a movie and thought to yourself, “This is the dumbest movie I’ve ever seen and I hope it runs for three hours,” this is the movie for you.

The Swarm will give you hives, but you’ll keep watching and watching and watching and watching and watching and then Michael Caine goes [hear Rob Brydon’s latter career Michael Caine voice] ON AN ABSOLUTE BLOODY RAMPAGE ABOUT THE BLOODY HONEY BEES AND HE LOSES THE ABILITY TO ADEQUATELY USE TONE TO DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN A MAJOR FUCKING DISASTER AND A SLIGHT INCONVENIENCE.

Suddenly, you’re wondering where The Swarm’s been all your life and after watching this movie for-fucking-ever Michael Caine and Katherine Ross ever so calmly have a dynamite mini-Al Gore the-world-is-crumbling moment while a mushroom cloud surges skyward behind them. You know, a perfectly normal reaction to the detonation OF A BLOODY NUCLEAR WARHEAD.

the swarm 31 days of horror

Final The Swarm Thoughts:

Irwin Allen should not be allowed near an editing room.

Availability: 

The good folks at Warner Archive have seen fit to bless/curse us with a Blu-ray of The Swarm. You can own this and turn it on whenever you want! Torture unsuspecting friends and family! NOW THAT’S BLOODY LIKE IT. It’s a one-star movie with four-star entertainment value. Let’s round up to 2 1/2 and call it a day.

 

#22. The Funhouse (1981)

the funhouse 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Tobe Hooper

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Tobe Hooper

Let’s make a movie with a super creepy carnival funhouse, BUT NOT DO ANYTHING WITH THE ACTUAL CARNIVAL/FUNHOUSE FOR MOST OF THE MOVIE. By the time this movie found itself some decent slasher elements and a relatively interesting menace, I’d checked out.

Final The Funhouse Thoughts:

Elizabeth Berridge probably deserved a more notable career. She was so good in Amadeus, but was still relegated to lesser supporting roles. This movie should have been fun. I’m sure a lot of people would give me a whole bunch of “yeah buts” about this movie, but it shouldn’t have been hard to deliver a halfway decent slasher movie with an entire carnival freak show at your disposal.

Availability: 

Scream Factory released this on Blu-ray. Huzzah. For completists only. 

 

#23. Ghostbusters (1984)

Ghostbusters Teaser poster

Nature of Shame:

I haven’t seen Ghostbusters this year. Showing it to my 9yo daughter for the first time.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Nothing!

I watched Ghostbusters again. I’ve written about my love of Ghostbusters many times over, so I’ll just direct you to the thousands of words I’ve already written. Most recently I wrote about some weird new negativity about the original film after the release of the remake in 2016. In 2012, I wrote about the ways in which the things we love from our childhood make us feel crazy old… like Ghostbusters came out 25 years before my daughter was born. From Here to Eternity came out 25 years before I was born… and From Here to Eternity seems reaaaalllly old to me. I’ve also written a couple of mental health bl-g posts about making time for the things you love and seeing the movie on the big screen for the first time since 1984.

Final Ghostbusters Thoughts:

It’s a couple of wavy lines.

Availability: 

Wherever fine films are sold. 

 

#24. Horror of Dracula (1958)

horror of dracula 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

First watch on Blu-ray. First watch in many many years.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Terence Fisher
Pre-1970
60th Anniversary

The Horror of Dracula (aka just Dracula in the UK) made a statement about the commercial viability of Hammer Horror. It proved that The Curse of Frankenstein was no fluke. It also cemented Peter Cushing and especially Christopher Lee as international movie stars.

It’s more atmospheric than creepy and lacks consideration for the source material, but goes about its business with a noteworthy efficiency. Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing make this movie far better than the material. Hammer solidifies their model with exquisite production values on a razor-thin budget.

the horror of dracula 31 days of horror

Final The Horror of Dracula Thoughts:

The Horror of Dracula is comfort food. Safe scares foregrounded against gothic elegance.

Availability: 

Warner Archive just announced a Region A Blu-ray release of The Horror of Dracula. I own the Region B released from Lions Gate, which features some restored footage. 

 

#25. Night of the Demon (1957)

night of the demon 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

UNWATCHED! LEGIT SHAME. <GASP.>

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970

If it weren’t for Possession, I’d declare this, without a doubt, the finest new watch of the season. Jacques Tourneur brings back some Val Lewton vibes with this story of the devil, the occult and a magician who thought he had it made in the shade. Dana Andrews plays the skeptic, steeped in science and reason, who arrives to argue against parapsychology at a conference. He finds himself mired in a case of some mysterious manuscripts and a hangup on a petulant Peggy Cummings.

Tourneur plays both sides of the occult. Sure it’s crazy, but what if… what if, this parlor magician named Karswell really has discovered the power of black magic? What if… his prophecies of death really do come true? The director adds depth to his questions through the language of light and shadow and the possibilities of the unknown.

night of the demon 31 days of horror

Final Night of the Demon Thoughts:

Night of the Demon deserves elevation into the pantheon of classic horror films and should be viewed by anyone with a pulse.

Availability: 

Powerhouse/Indicator released the ultimate Night of the Demon set featuring four cuts of the film, a bounty of extras and an extra special Karswell business card that you might not want to hang on to… bwah hah hah. The Limited Edition set isn’t region-coded so it’ll play anywhere. It’s my favorite release of 2018.

 

#26. The Hearse (1980)

the hearse 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unwatched Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Inanimate Thing Comes Alive To Kill You

So it wasn’t exactly how I thought it was going to go because I’m not sure I can say that the hearse came live to kill anything because there was at least, I believe, always some kind of spectral Hearse driver… so not sure it counts, but it counts.

Anyway, The Hearse turned into a capable little spook flick once it found a groove and stopped with the Trish Van Devere city girl living in the country and oh boy things are going to get kooky! Also so much teen boy ogling. She’s harassed by unfriendly locals and a spectral (?) hearse. The biggest problem with The Hearse is that the locals are so terrible and the hearse haunting is totally weird and any sane human would have gotten the hell out of town long before the movie reveals the satanic nature of the disturbances. JUST GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM BECAUSE NONE OF THIS IS KOSHER!, I yelled at the TV at one point.

Even though George Bowers’ film is filled with a collection of 1970’s satanic horror tropes, The Hearse proves to be off-kilter just enough to make this languid (some would say boring) B-flick more than just a knockoff. Not much more, mind you. I was pleasantly surprised because my expectations were extraordinarily low. There’s a better movie in there if you care to find it. Plus, Joseph Cotten!

the hearse 31 days of horror

Final The Hearse Thoughts:

Unlike The Funhouse, in which nothing happens and I lost all interest, The Hearse manages nothing more than the oddity of the spectral hearse hauntings and I’m at least hooked and waiting for more. Potatoes. Tomatoes. I even hung on to watch the extras on the Blu-ray. That’s how into The Hearse I was — relatively speaking.

Availability: 

Vinegar Syndrome released The Hearse on Blu-ray because they do things like that when they’re not releasing porn.

 

#27. Alligator (1980)

alligator 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Where’s my damn Alligator Blu-ray protest watch.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Death from the Deep

Robert Forster has this thing about him as an actor. He’s gruff and unlikable but magnetic. He commands the screen with his demeanor — not bombast or histrionics, just quiet gravitas. He reminds me of John Garfield in many ways. I won’t dare say that Alligator is his finest hour of film, but the film is incredibly effective at transferring the Jaws model to the rough and tumble city streets with a sly sense of humor.

A pet alligator gets loose in the sewer, meets toxic runoff and becomes a very large hungry man-eating alligator. Director Lewis Teague has a checkered filmography. Cujo, Cat’s Eye and Alligator suggests the guy had great potential as a horror director. He creates a number of highly effective set pieces. Given stars and a budget, however, and he turns in Jewel of the Nile and Navy Seals. Okay, I do have a soft spot for Navy Seals, but it’s not a good film.

Now, pardon me while I resume my ALLIGATOR ON BLU-RAY campaign. Considering all the genre dreck that’s being released on Blu-ray you’d think we could get Alligator. I only have a Korean DVD release.

alligator 31 days of horror

Final Alligator Thoughts:

Don’t mess with Ramon.

Availability: 

Sadly non-existent. The aforementioned Korean DVD is all we’ve got. It’s better than nothing, but it’s a full frame VHS transfer. This YouTube version is even worse.

 

#28. Medousa (1998)

medousa 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unwatched Mondo Macabro DVD.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Country of Origin: Greece
20th Anniversary

Having just had a conversation about Hammer’s The Gorgon on the last Cinema Shame podcast, I had expected something similar. Not even the same ballpark. A boy’s mother goes missing. He remembers odd, specific details about the night of her disappearance and he’s trying to put them together into something that makes sense.All he knows is that it has something to do with a long-haired woman in black. Many years later he’s the head of a gang of thieves that has the opportunity to burgle the house in which his mother disappeared.

Viewers looking for a genre refashioning of the myth might become frustrated with the film’s non-existent pacing. Medousa, however, creates a substantial amount of tension through flashback and the concurrent police investigation into the sudden appearance of statues of people who’ve gone missing. This is an arthouse movie that transfers ancient myth to modern Athens through mood and mystery.

medousa 1998 31 days of horror

Final Medousa Thoughts:

I didn’t think I liked this movie. The more it simmered, the more I appreciated the psychosexual undercurrents and deliberate swell to catharsis.

The Medusa myth boasts such magnificent imagery — but imagery that becomes more complicated within the cinematic language. This might be one explanation for why it’s rarely attempted on screen. #IdleThoughts

Availability: 

Mondo Macabro’s DVD looks great. I wouldn’t hesitate to pick this up if you’re someone with a passing interest in Greek cinema or mythology. For anyone else, I struggle to offer a blanket recommendation. If languid arthouse cinema with a pinch of mystique is your bag, then by all means dabble.

 

#29. The Phantom Carriage (1921)

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Silent Horror

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Country of Origin: Sweden
Silent
Pre-1970’s

I’d long heard tales of the great Phantom Carriage. The “I watch this every New Years” accolades. I prepared myself for worship.

Victor Sjöström’s macabre fable features stunning double exposures and a complex flashback structure uncommon to silent films. It’s a remarkable work of expressionist art — and the scene where the coach driver acquires a drowned soul by driving his carriage into the water felt nothing short of otherworldly. 

And yet… I didn’t love it. After my viewing I felt compelled to do some research about the source material. It felt at once like an ancient fairy tale and a cautionary scared straight video. They Soul Shall Bear Witness! (wow–just wow) was a 1912 novel by the author Selma Lagerlöf. It was originally commissioned by a Swedish health association as a means of public education about tuberculosis.

Sjöström downplays the novel’s message about the nature of the contagion, but retains the character of Sister Edith as The Phantom Carriage‘s main protagonist and every time it returns to her, the film rolls through molasses.

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

Final The Phantom Carriage Thoughts:

If for no other reason, you should watch The Phantom Carriage for some of the most impressive special effects in all of silent cinema. Don’t let my relative disappointment deter you. Sjöström has created a masterpiece of visual artistry and for that reason alone it deserves your attention. 

Availability: 

The Phantom Carriage has been brought to us on a spectacular Criterion edition of the film featuring multiple scores, including a modern experimental version; an except from an interview with Ingmar Bergman; and a visual essay by film historian Peter Cowie.

 

#30. Scanners (1981)

scanners 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Unseen Cronenberg “classic”

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Cronenberg

I picked up the Scanners Criterion Blu-ray many years ago because it was a genre film released on Criterion and goshdarnit I should watch this thing because who doesn’t make references to Scanners‘ exploding heads? I know I do. And it always felt disingenuous. A little pang of guilt with every mention. Cronenberg’s most visible film.

I no longer feel disingenuous, but I do feel underwhelmed.

David Cronenberg’s not an easy filmmaker. Affinity for his films cannot necessarily be predicted. I’m a fan of Videodrome and Naked Lunch. I love The Fly (1986). I still need to see The Brood. But every once in awhile he makes a film to which people really gravitate and I’m standing there wondering what the hell I missed. So it goes with Scanners.

Beyond the exploding head effects, I found the film an easy enough watch through the face-value weirdness of intense staring contests as a form of cinema. After the first head ‘splosion, however the film relies largely on sequences teasing more of the same brand of body horror. Unsettling, off-kilter tension throughout with little of the same payoff.

I didn’t *dislike* Scanners, but I constantly struggled to identify with the film. I grasped for meaning that might not have been there at all. Was it about the rise of a nefarious counter-culture? Was it about post-60’s hippie radicals becoming working professionals? Hell, after watching the film I went online and Googled “the meaning of Scanners.” It didn’t help.

scanners 31 days of horror

Final Scanners Thoughts:

Stephen Lack should not act in the same movie as Patrick McGoohan.

Availability: 

Criterion has blessed us with a Scanners release so we can dive into the extra features to help explain the point of what it was we just watched. 

 

#31. Tales from the Hood (1995)

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

A thing I really liked in the theater, but haven’t seen since.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Hooptober Extra Credit

I remember loving this film after its release. For whatever reason I just never picked it up on home video until Scream Factory recently released the Blu-ray. The “Gotta Have Its” kicked in finally and I picked myself up a copy.

I’ve never been a huge fan of anthology films. With the exception of Dead of Night, I’ve never *loved* any of them. It just seems like there’s always one story that takes a bite out of the overall experience. Even if 3 out of 4 segments land that’s still just 75% of a good movie. C-grade. Good luck with your job as a grocery bagger, movie.

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Tales from the Hood confronts real goddamn issues through some mildly unnerving set pieces. I admire the film now more than I’m wowed by it. In 1995 it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. It felt vibrant and fresh, like discovering a new thing. Now, it’s fine. I love that Rusty Cundieff is out there making films as wild and experimental as this, but 23 years between revisitations feels right by me.

I still adore the third segment, “KKK Comeuppance.” Stop motion and POV shots abound in this wildly inventive short film about a slimy white politician getting his due from the ghosts of racial injustice past.

tales from the hood 31 days of horror

Final Tales from the Hood Thoughts:

I love that people love this film; there’s much to admire. As I said, I just have this thing about anthology films. It’s the “It’s not you; it’s me” film criticism.

Availability: 

Scream Factory Blu-ray looks and sounds great considering the negligible budget and effects. Definite pick-up for fans. Definite watch for the curious.

#32. Tales from the Hood 2 (2018)

tales from the hood 2 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

It’s out there. I haven’t seen it.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Extra credit

Tales from the Hood 2 further reinforces my negativity about anthology films by being cheap, poorly written and wildly erratic in tone. Where the original found some nuance with its characters, this is the sledgehammer of stereotype. Negative production values undermine whatever value might have been present.

After the horrifying (in a bad way) opening segment, I thought the film could only get better from there. NO! It maintains the same level of leaden jokes and unnecessary histrionics until you stop watching and just do something else while it’s on in the background. I hope for everyone the stuck around for the duration that something rewarded their efforts.

tales from the hood 2 31 days of horror

Final Tales from the Hood 2 Thoughts:

Ack.

Availability: 

Sure you could own this, but why would you? 

 

#33. Suspiria (2018)

suspiria 2018

Nature of Shame:

The only “Shame” is that maybe I didn’t believe that this should have been made at all.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

None

Call it a remake or a reimagining, Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria is at least a reaction to Argento’s film. Relevant information: I consider 1977’s Suspiria a masterpiece of art horror. The film’s threadbare narrative permits Argento’s nearly singleminded focus to remain on the image — the color, the depth of focus, the set design. Style over substance… unless as in this instance, style *IS* the substance.

Guadagnino’s takes Argento’s skeleton and stuffs it with narratives and themes and some of them flesh out ideas that ’77 skirts like a passing breeze. Set in the same time period, in a divided Berlin, ’18 digs into gender politics, dance theory, body horror, terrorism, religion, alienation, etc. Another viewing might pull out twelve more points of concerns for Guadagnino’s lens. Guadagnino has tossed so many different balls in the air it would be impossible for Suspiria to catch them all — even with its 2 1/2 hour runtime.

suspiria 2018

What 2018’s not concerned about is the aforementioned color, set design, etc. Set in a spartan Eastern block universe, the director waltzes among grey and greyer, mirrors and concrete. It’s not that he’s ignored visual aesthetics, it’s that he’s reacted with equal and opposite vigor.

Guadagnino’s greatest success comes in the ways he incorporates dance into the narrative. Argento used the dance academy as an insular world that might secretly foster a coven of witches. At best, a convenience. Guadagnino uses the dance setting as a playground for body horror and gender identity and politics. Aronofsky covered some of this in Black Swan, but not like this, not with this attention to detail and performance. The ballet (Volk, in this instance) becomes as integral to the film as the witches themselves.

I might still be coming to terms with my overall opinion of Suspiria. I walked out bewildered and frustrated. My frustration has dissipated under the observation that Guadagnino’s missteps originated in overzealousness and ambition.

suspiria 31 days of horror

Final Suspiria Thoughts:

Polarizing, maddening, overlong, fitfully brilliant, Suspiria is a movie with 200 different angles. Find the right one and you might see transcendence; find the wrong one, however, and… well, your fate might very well align with those that backed Mother Markos. (#SpoilerAlert: Scanners doesn’t have a monopoly on ‘sploded heads anymore.)

Availability: 

Not yet. But you can pre-order it here from Amazon.

 

#34. The Black Doll (1938)

black doll 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

I dunno.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
80th Anniversary

Universal’s Crime Club mysteries are a largely forgotten off-shoot of their early horror films. Spooky old houses, mysterious charlatans, and a murder mystery to be solved!

Otis Garrett’s The Black Doll starts in earnest. A black doll appears on a dishonest mine owners desk and he fears that death has arrived to make amends for the murder of his former partner. The building blocks of a eerie movie about black magic and the occult! The proto-Night of the Demon!

Alas.

Edgar Kennedy arrives and turns the movie into a light comedy murder mystery. Kennedy’s charisma makes it entertaining for entirely different reasons than you’d hoped after that first reel. Pleasant but forgettable.

black doll 31 days of horror

Final The Black Doll Thoughts:

I figured out why the Crime Club mysteries have largely been forgotten. This might have been the best one.

Availability: 

The Black Doll is available on a less-than-stellar DVD-R. It does the job, but it’s got a case of the jitters. 

 

#35. The Fall of the House of Usher (1928)

usher 1928 31 days of horror

Nature of Shame:

Haven’t seen in a long time?

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:

Pre-1970
90th Anniversary
Silent

Jean Epstein’s La chute de la maison Usher is the best adaptation of Poe’s source material ever made. I’m throwing down that gauntlet.

Weird, unsettling and otherworldly, it places the viewer off-balance and conveys the psychological terror through silence. Unusual camera angles and expressive lighting depict Roderick Usher’s descent into madness where dialogue would only get in the way. Gothic horror rooted in pure cinema — visuals and a minimalist score place the horror in the mind, exactly where Poe would have wanted it.

la chute de la maison usher

Final The Fall of the House of Usher Thoughts:

Just as moved by the film as during my first viewing many years ago for a term paper on cinematic adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe, I wish we could see a fully restored version of Epstein’s masterpiece. It’s easy to see where Luis Bunuel influenced Epstein as his assistant director.

Availability: 

Image released a now OOP 2001 DVD of the film, but we’ve seen nothing since. While the DVD certainly improves upon the VHS bootleg copy I tracked down 20 years ago, there’s room for improvement and I hope someone like Flicker Alley picks this up and works their magic.

 

31 Days of Horror 2018: Recap!

31 days of horror 2017

Total Number of Horror Movies: 35
First Time Watches: 25
Total Number of Minutes: 3378
Average Length of Film: 96 minutes
Average Year of Release: 1973
Countries of Origin: 7 – US, UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Greece, Sweden, France

Top 5 First-Time 31 Days of Horror 2018 Watches

#1. Possession (1981)

possession 1981

#2. Night of the Demon (1957)

night of the demon 31 days of horror

#3. The Mist (2007)

#4. Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)

#5a (tie). The Phantom Carriage (1921)

the phantom carriage 31 days of horror

#5b (tie). Kiss of the Vampire
kiss of the vampire 1963

The Dark (1979): 31 Days of Horror

#19. The Dark (1979)

the dark 1979 posterNature of The Dark Shame:
Unopened The Dark Blu-ray that I ordered for some really good reason I’m sure.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Tobe Hooper directed (co-directed)

At certain points during any carefully curated movie marathon, one grows tired of watching quality movies. You might even need to crack open something that’s sure to disappoint.

And yet… and yet…

If your expectations are set for disappointment, you can’t be disappointed by subpar moviewatching. You could possibly be whelmed or nonplussed, but disappointment in that instance would necessitate enjoyment. Let that simmer.

the dark 1979

‘The Dark’ Elevator Pitch

I took this from the Google profile for The Dark:

A writer (William Devane) and a TV newswoman (Cathy Lee Crosby) link a California killing spree to an alien werewolf in blue jeans.

While I never rely on these listings for my own elevator pitchers, I found that in this instance nothing else would do. I’d just like to point out the part where it says “alien werewolf in blue jeans” because that’s what happens and even while you’re watching The Dark you can’t help but think that someone misread the script at some crucial juncture.

the dark 1979
William Devane plays an author trying to uncover the truth about his son’s killer. A move interesting story would have been his struggle to come to terms with his wardrobe — part lumberjack chic and part Tom Wolfe’s yard sale.

In ‘The Dark’ Hell of Last Minute Rethinks

I’m not going to bury the lede here. The Dark stinks. The Dark stinks because someone clearly put one idea into production and at some point before that production hit the can, it became something else entirely. You don’t need Google to suggest that something went terribly, horribly wrong. You do need Google to tell you exactly what it was that went terribly horrible wrong.

Courtesy of The Den of Geek, I learned why The Dark featured an alien werewolf as a the principle laser beam wielding baddie. In blue jeans.

the dark 1979
Note the semi-attached laser beams.

I’ll paraphrase because if you want the whole story you might as well hop over to the Den of Geek. After making Eaten Alive, Film Ventures hired Tobe Hooper to make a movie about an abused autistic child held captive in his attic. The house burns down; he escapes and begins ripping off people’s heads.

Hooper fell behind schedule so the producers replaced him with Bud “Kingdom of the Spiders” Cardos and then at the last minute those flippant producers decided that there wasn’t any money in a murderous autistic attic kid movie so they made him a killer alien. To punctuate this point, they added laserbeams to his kills in post production and an “elaborate” two-minute climax battle featuring the lumbering alien.

No One Expects ‘The Dark’ to Fall

And yet! No. I’m sorry. There’s no deus ex machina here. The Dark stinks. In fact, it’s even worse than that, because — despite all that silliness about aliens and werewolves and laserbeams that explode heads — it’s still boring.

Filmed with all the panache of a mercifully forgotten TV movie, The Dark even looks bored with itself. Missing Manson cult member and writer William Devane and blonde TV reporter/cardboard cutout Cathy Lee Crosby operate completely outside each other’s orbits — and they’re certainly not acting in a movie about a head ‘sploding laserbeam spewing alien werewolf.

the dark casey kasem

The police proceduralness of it all comes to a head in a scene featuring police pathologist Casey Kasem who dutifully informs a bunch of cops that the perpetrator has gray skin. GRAY SKIN! Set the world afire with your far out observations, Shaggy. Thank goodness for Casey Kasem because he’s one of only a couple people in this production that seems to grasp the rampant stupidity — but on the other hand, that just might have been his natural cadence.

Final ‘The Dark’ Thoughts

I won’t bother you about The Dark anymore. It’s a movie that might have been interesting in another life, with a different script and something interesting to say about an autistic child with rage issues. It’s also another movie that might have been interesting in another life, as an incompetently constructed Z-movie about an alien werewolf in blue jeans. Unfortunately for us, it became none of those things and settled for lukewarm green bean casserole.

I’m sorry. I’m supposed to start criticisms with something positive. That’s what my Creative Writing workshops always suggested. Not that I’m worried about hurting The Dark‘s feelings — just that it’ll seem more level-headed to mention something I liked beyond “incomprehensible mess” that might be entertaining in the right state of mind.

the dark 1979
Jacqueline Hyde tries to decide if Cathy Lee Cardboard Cutout has a soul inside her pretty blonde head.

Okay, so… the red-headed, quirky psychic played by Jacqueline Hyde stole two scenes but ultimately became a contrived narrative device, and the “score” features someone whispering “the darknessssssssssssssssssss” over and over again. You just won’t get that in a quality production. Happy now?

‘The Dark’ Review:

Availability:

the dark blu-rayLucky (?) for you, Amazon has made The Dark available to view via Amazon Prime Video. That way, poorly conceived notions to watch The Dark may be satisfied for free.

The Dark is also available via Code Red Blu-ray on the Ronin Flix site. Code Red has “blessed” us with a release that looks better than this film ever deserved.

 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)
#19. The Dark (1979)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook

Hold That Ghost (1941): 31 Days of Horror

#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)

hold that ghost posterNature of Shame:
No Hold That Ghost Shame! Sharing with my girls.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1940’s
Pre-1970

My 6yo ran through the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies and when she wanted to watch another from A&C I knew I had one more up my sleeve to satisfy some of those Hooptober requirements.

Hold that Ghost had her doing Lou Costello impressions for at least another week. I take great pride when she assaults adults with her cries of “OH, CHUCK!! OH, CHUCK!!” and shames then when they don’t know Hold That Ghost. I’m raising my own Old Movie Weirdo. She’s hoping to become a card-carrying member by age 8. You’ve got to have goals and she’s decided that mastering subtraction is a secondary skill.

Hold That Ghost Elevator Pitch

Cue the Andrews Sisters. Bud and Lou play gas station attendants named Chuck and Freddie who dream of a high class occupation at a nightclub named Chez Glamour, but when they screw that up they’re back at the gas station and accidentally wind up in the backseat of a gangster during a high speed car chase/shootout. The gangster gets it, see? And due to their proximity to the deceased at his time of demise, they inherit his entire estate — a creepy old mansion. But where’s the dough? Cue the Andrews Sisters again.

hold that ghost

In the Not-So-Bloody Villa of Safe Scary Delights

Hold That Ghost clearly provided the blueprint for the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies that would follow a few years later. The film borrows its narrative from the early “old dark house” movies such as The Cat and the Canary (1927). Movies that sold a “haunted” old house but explained away all the scary bits by films’ end. Producers believed that movie audiences would find “real” haunts a little too unsettling. Thus, Scooby Doo was born. Safe scares for impressionable moviewatchers.

In 1932 The Old Dark House simultaneously created and broke the mold for the genre, parodying the genre from within. Thus comedy and “the old dark house” became natural companions; The Old Dark House left no legitimate avenue for sincere advancement of the genre. Once viewers became accustomed to being frightened by the prospect of real ghosts, horror movies had to provide that payoff. Comedies, however, could manipulate the form and wink at the audience. Hold That Ghost winks, nods and holds the flashlight up to the “spooks.” We must always believe that Lou is legitimately frightened and that Bud is dismissive and skeptical. It’s all good clean fun, except for the dead bodies.

hold that ghost

Everyone Expects Abbott and Costello to be frightened and skeptical, relatively speaking.

I assume that most viewers in 2018 view the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies because of the monster pedigree, but Hold That Ghost offers the most natural utility for their schtick. The latter movies become more finely turned, variations on the same theme (Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man excepted). Hold That Ghost doesn’t feel like a Universal brand (and no, obviously, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein wasn’t either because it was a surprise success and spawned four more monster mashups). It feels like the comedians have been tasked with an improvisational bit about a gangster’s money and a haunted house and they’re navigating the pratfalls of the relatively new horror comedy genre.

hold that ghost
Joan Davis with Lou Costello performing a delightful routine with an uncooperative candle.

The ambling rawness of the premise along with the cast of assorted supporting characters lends Hold That Ghost an off-the-cuff freshness that dwindled as the parade of monsters rolled on in the 1940’s. Joan Davis proves to be a particularly wonderful comedic partner for Lou, providing something more than the usual assortment of sarcasm and rebuffs. If Hold That Ghost surpasses other Bud and Lou horror comedies, it’s because the entire cast chips in to perform some of the heavy comedic lifting rather than leaving frantic Lou to flail all by his lonesome.

The wonderful and potentially underappreciated Evelyn Ankers also deserves a mention. As a 1940’s cog in the Universal machine, Ankers found herself in the thankless shrieking damsel roles of the 2nd Universal horror cycle. She perhaps owes that stint to her role in Hold That Ghost — the first of those performances. In this very same year she’d make her big movie monster debut alongside Lon Chaney, Jr. in The Wolf Man (1941), followed closely by The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942), Son of Dracula (1943), Captive Wild Woman (1943), and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1943) among many others. As a steady anchor for Universal’s monstrous, she provided more than just a pretty face.

hold that ghost

How Does One Hold That Ghost Anyway?

Though the title alludes to some ghost catching, you’ll have to wait a few years before anyone bothers with the capture and containment of spooks or specters. The film’s origins shed some light on the patchwork quality. It began life as a movie called “Oh, Charlie!” which makes sense when you hear how many times Lou says, “Oh, Chuck!”

The original narrative had the displaced gang members trying to scare Chuck and Ferdie out of the inherited tavern when another rival gang shows up to fight over the hidden loot (which turns out to be counterfeit. Production was put on hold after Buck Privates became such a smash success and Universal rushed a follow up In the Navy into theaters. For the capper, Universal brought back the Andrews Sisters to open and close the film because they’d appeared in both of the prior Abbott and Costello service comedies. Because how else would you bookend an old dark house horror comedy but with bandleader Ted Lewis and the Andrews Sisters — clearly the keys to all of these productions. Even contemporaneous critics called out the superfluous use of bookending musical numbers to pad the run time.

hold that ghost

Final Hold That Ghost Thoughts

I found it useful to revisit Hold That Ghost immediately after a tour through the latter Abbott and Costello Meet… series because it placed the films in a different context. It’s easy to forget that the formula began in 1941 with Hold That Ghost and didn’t magically come together seven years later for a hair-brained scheme to revive Universal’s slagging former moneymakers.

It’s no great surprise that Hold That Ghost feels fresher than the latter iterations of the formula. Just because it doesn’t have the monster branding doesn’t make it less worthwhile. I’d wager that if Hold That Ghost were called instead “Abbott and Costello Meet the Spooks” it would be probably considered the best of the lot and remain one of the duo’s best known films. Though I do wish the film didn’t have seven minutes of the Andrews Sisters.

Did someone say the Andrews Sisters?

hold that ghost

Hold That Ghost Rating:

Availability:

hold that ghost dvdOnce again let’s revisit the availability of the Abbott and Costello films for the uninitiated and the cheap seats.

Universal has given you dozens of opportunities to own the branded Meet the Monster films on Blu-ray and DVD through the  The Frankenstein Complete Legacy Collection, The Dracula Complete Legacy Collection and The Wolf Man Complete Legacy Collection.

If you’d like a complete collection of the Abbott and Costello Meet… movies, that’s more difficult. There’s the brilliant (but OOP) 28-film Abbott and Costello: The Complete Universal Pictures Collection steamer trunk that solves all problems. The Meet the Monsters DVD set contains Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde (which is currently not available on Blu-ray), but is missing Abbott & Costello Meet the Killer, Boris Karloff because… I have no idea. In order to get that one, you’d need to purchase The Best of Abbott & Costello, Vol. 3 DVD. Got that?

Now, Hold That Ghost is available on The Best of Abbott & Costello Vol. 1 DVD set alongside the aforementioned Buck Privates and In the Navy.  Now you’re set. Go forth and watched Bud and Lou. 

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)
#18. Hold That Ghost (1941)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

The Bloodstained Shadow (1978): 31 Days of Horror

#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

the bloodstained shadow 1978Nature of Shame:
Later-era giallo that takes cues from the best of the genre and I will pretty much watch anything labeled “giallo.” Unwatched 88 Films Blu-ray.

Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Decade: 1970’s
Anniversary: 40th

I read about The Bloodstained Shadow in Troy Howarth’s So Deadly So Perverse Vol. 2 and subsequently picked the Blu-ray up from 88 Films. It’s been on my shelf for ages, but with the arrival of the Underrated ’78 lists on Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I had to finally crack the seal and do the deed.

The Bloodstained Shadow Elevator Pitch

It’s a murder mystery and insular society whodunnit with strangulations, mediums, unsolved murders, repressed psychoses and black gloved killers! In Venice!

the bloodstained shadow 1978

In the Bloody Laguna of Venitian Delights

Antonio Bido’s The Bloodstained Shadow (aka Solamente Nero) recalls Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture A Ducking in that in focuses on the crimes committed within an insular society. Where Fulci goes bombastic to unearth the message in his film, however, Bido peels back layers with tweezers.

Stefano visits his priest brother in the Venice laguna whom warns of a decadent community of evildoing and makes vague allusions to a medium. And because this is a giallo, Stefano then witnesses the strangulation of the medium by a killer (dressed in black, naturally). When Stefano investigates and uncovers the truth about a string of murders, he becomes a target for the murderer himself.

the bloodstained shadow 1978

No One Expects the Venetian Priest #SpoilerAlert

So Bido might telegraph the identity of the killer rather early on in the film, but the fun of The Bloodstained Shadow has nothing to do with uncovering the truth. It’s about how you got there — and you’ll cross multiple genres and wildly erratic pacing to make it happen.

Like Bido’s other successful film, Watch Me While I Kill, it sometime feels like the director merely flies by the seat of his pants, piecing together genre aesthetics and cues like mismatched puzzle pieces. While it’s easy to interpret that as a lack of vision or incompetence, Bido appears (feel free to argue) to use his lack of convention to keep viewers off balance. Seeing as how he’s working within a very restrictive genre, this methodology has less madness than you might think.

the bloodstained shadow 1978

How Does a Shadow get Bloodstained Anyway?

In certain ways, Bloodstained Shadow reminded me of Francisco Barilli’s Pensione Paura, another film that dances between predictable genre beats to create something resistant to categorization. Bido manages to include a smattering of visual tropes that still ground the film within the giallo genre range. This has probably served Bido better than Barilli’s non-conformity.

As a result of the style of the murders and procedural drama, Bloodstained Shadow gets that genre credibility. Viewers will remain interested in giallo-classified films, whereas Barilli’s film floats outside the genre and therefore off of most horror fans’ radar. It’s not even currently available on DVD to my knowledge and that’s a bloody shame.

the bloodstained shadow 1978

Final The Bloodstained Shadow Thoughts

The Bloodstained Shadow has such awkward pacing that you’ll forget for long stretches that what you’re watching is supposed to be a horror film. Normally, I’d use that very same line as a complaint. In this instance, however, Bido so effectively deploys exotic cityscape cinematography an score (by Stelvio Cipriani and mixed and re-recorded by Goblin) that the languid pacing feels more like a strength. The film has plenty of other weaknesses, but it largely overcomes them by having a unique feel in an otherwise narrow genre bandwidth.

The Bloodstained Shadow Rating:

Availability:

bloodstained shadow blu-ray

The Bloodstained Shadow is available to watch on Amazon Prime Video. The film looks rather dark and colorless on the stream, but it’s quality enough to sample for free.

I watched the film on 88 Films’ Region B Blu-ray release, which offers better color and sharper black contrast. 

It’s not a major upgrade, however. I still hope that the film will received a nice Region A offering in the near future from a caring distributor willing to do some restoration work. The visuals and score are the most important parts of the film — so it’s a shame that we can’t view a better source.

 

2018 @CinemaShame / Hooptober Progress

#1. Deep Rising (1998)
#2. The Mist (2007)
#3. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
#4. Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man (1951)
#5. Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955)
#6. Maniac Cop (1988)
#7. Nightbreed (1990)
#8. The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959)
#9. In the Castle of Bloody Desires (1968)
#10. Chopping Mall (1986)
#11. The Kiss of the Vampire (1963)
#12. The Legend of Hell House (1973)
#13. Messiah of Evil (1973)
#14. Possession (1981)
#15. Blood Diner (1987)
#16. Inquisition (1978)
#17. The Bloodstained Shadow (1978)

James David Patrick is a writer. He’s written just about everything at some point or another. Add this nonsense to the list. Follow his blog at www.thirtyhertzrumble.com and find him on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

A bl-g about classic and not-so-classic movies, music and nostalgia by James David Patrick