#2. Etoile (1989)
Nature of Shame:
Unopened Scorpion Blu-ray purchased because Etoile was Black Swan before Black Swan was Black Swan. And I don’t care who you are — it’s good to see 1989 Jennifer Connelly.
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
I kicked Hooptober up a notch by watching a horror movie that wasn’t really a horror movie at all, despite the imagery of a black swan beak-stabbing a ballerina on the gorgeous poster art.
Etoile Elevator Pitch
Claire, an American ballerina (Connelly), enrolls in a prestigious Hungarian ballet school. Meanwhile, Jason (Gary McCleery), a young man assisting his uncle (Charles Durning) in a quest for antique clocks, falls in love with the beautiful ballerina. As their relationship blossoms, Claire becomes inexplicably obsessed with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Strange happenings intervene and Jason becomes determined to unravel the mysterious powers behind it all.
‘Etoile’ Means Star
Etoile toiled in obscurity until the release Black Swan — at which point it toiled in near obscurity as a few seen-everythings lauded Peter Del Monte’s film as a clear source of inspiration for Aronofksy’s Black Swan. Certainly thematic connections exist. The experience of playing the lead in Swan Lake causing fractures in personality. The dancers’ connections to the ballet approximating religious zealotry. Aronofsky also incorporated elements of The Red Shoes (1948) and The Fly (1986). It’s not exactly the 1:1 parallel that some have suggested.
Del Monte’s film feels more like a toothless Suspiria (1977) than Black Swan feels like Etoile. If this were an SAT question, the answer would have been Etoile : Suspiria :: Black Swan : The Red Shoe Fly (Don’t Bother Me).
From the opening scene where Claire arrives at the Hungarian ballet school, Etoile invokes Suspiria‘s alienation and importunate old world mysteries. Both stories depict the attempted corruption of the ballerina by apparent supernatural forces. This narrative easily integrates into the obsessive and often torturous world of ballet. That the act of training for ballet takes the form of torture permits the co-mingling of high art and horror — something that Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 Suspiria re-imagining made far more than subtext.
Etoile pumps the breaks as it approaches and dabbles in genre motifs. The story downplays witchcraft and the ghostly presence that invades Claire’s life. Though Del Monte doesn’t play a smoke and mirror game with regard to the explanation for the ballerina’s obsession, he doesn’t at all sensationalize Claire’s descent into “madness.” Argento goes full tilt on the grotesquerie of witches, and Aronofsky mines Natalie Portman’s psychological and physical trauma. Etoile just is and while that makes for a mostly pleasant experience, it’s also forgettable in light of the other far more successful films in this unsettling cinema of ballet.
Final ‘Etoile’ Thoughts
Connelly gives an engaging performance in a film that doesn’t really provide her with the meaty bits that allowed Jessica Harper and Natalie Portman to engage the audience beyond the face-value substance of the part. As Connelly’s Claire becomes consumed by her “upcoming performance,” Gary McCleery becomes a leading stiff. He’s not bad, but he’s an American that looks the part of a B-grade actor who’d star in a lesser Lucio Fulci film. For what it’s worth, he’s worked with Peter Yates and Paul Mazursky, and I’m certain he was also wallpaper in The Friends of Eddie Coyle and Harry & Tonto.
Etoile‘s chockablock full of gothic imagery and Del Monte’s final climax contains some memorable cross-cutting between the Swan Lake production and Jason’s struggle to free Claire’s soul from the tormented production. In the end, however, it’s all a rather bloodless and tepid psychological thriller without much bite and a total waste of the clock-obsessed millionaire played by Charles Durning. In the on-disc interview with director Peter Del Monte, he expresses regret about the swan “special effects.” The production ran out of money, but the demonic swan show must go on. He might not be pleased to hear this, but after Etoile rolls its credits — that swan is the one piece of the film you’ll remember. It’s not a bad film, and in fact I’d suggest Etoile‘s worth a watch just for some visuals alone, but it just fails to establish a consistent and memorable tenor.
Etoile is available on Scorpion Blu-ray and DVD.
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
- Shocker (1989) // 2. Etoile (1989)
#1. Shocker (1989)
Nature of Shame:
Unopened Blu-ray that I ordered years ago for some really good reason I’m sure.
Hooptober Challenge Checklist:
Kicking off Hooptober with some unseen Wes Craven from 1989 to combine multiple misguided moviewatching endeavors: #Watch1989 and the Cinema Shame Hooptober Watchpile Shame-a-thon. There will be many more as I’ve saved all 1989 horror movies for this wonderful time of the year.
Shocker Elevator Pitch
A local teen football star (Peter Berg) catches a serial killer / cable TV repairman, condemning him to the electric chair — only this bad guy has found the Satanic loophole to transform him into radio waves/electricity in order to continue his murderous ways after his execution.
But radio waves and electricity are not the same thing.
I’m not sure that matters. Nobody cares about science. They might as well be the same thing.
No. They’re really not. Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation. This is relevant. Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell predicted the existence of radio waves through his unified theory of electromagnetism in 1870. In 1886, Heinrich Hertz applied Maxwell’s findings to construct a method by which he could send and receive controlled radio waves by using household goods. The unit of frequency of an electromagnetic wave (1 cycle per second) is called a Hertz in his honor. So in a way Heinrich was also responsible for this website, Thirty Hertz Rumble.
You’re losing readers before you even start the review.
I don’t have readers.
I can’t argue with you there.
The ‘Shocking’ Laws of Electricity
Wes Craven’s Shocker follows a predictable blueprint. Though the parameters have shifted somewhat, Shocker directly recalls A Nightmare on Elm Street in the ways teenagers take on a big bad who’s found an alternative reality through which he can perpetrate his grisly murders. A TV repairman with a limp comes up decidedly lacking against the hugely charismatic Freddy Krueger. It’s no stretch to reimagine this as a late-series Elm Street with Robert England’s Krueger using the television/movies to invade dreams. Mitch Pileggi’s an adequate presence and boosts Shocker‘s dark humor, but there’s a sizable fray in Shocker‘s wiring that he can’t possibly overcome.
Shocker should have been better — could have been better if not for the brazen disregard for the rules of the game. Once Pinker sidesteps his own execution by becoming some kind of electrical charge that can be transferred from person to person or through electrical wiring or via television waves. There seems to be no limitations and therefore no way for the viewer to feel any real stakes. When a villain seems capable of doing anything he pleases, it’s impossible to feel any tension. Shocker‘s status as a black comedy helps ameliorate these shortcomings, but without an ability to foster suspense it can’t rise above horror or comedy mediocrity.
In combating a villain of limitless power, Jonathan Parker’s (Berg) actions to finally corral the electromagnetic killer also feel arbitrary — meant to end a film rather than combat a foe with any narrative relevance. When you completely disregard setting boundaries for the villain, the hero must also follow suit. While the final battle showcase an elaborate special effects sequence and provide a playground for Craven’s finest self-referential humor, it also becomes escapist frivolity completely detached from Shocker‘s already scattered logic.
Final ‘Shocker’ Thoughts
Minor, fleeting entertainment. Wes Craven’s horror has a definable quality in the polish and innovation; however, in Shocker the polish and apparently boundless creativity belies the horror beneath. The slasher construct requires rules and limits to build tension. We’re left with an average, bloody comedy — based on idea that was given a more definable and effective shape in the John Ritter comedy Stay Tuned (1992).
Shocker is available on a Scream Factory Blu-ray wherever fine Blu-rays are sold.
2019 @CinemaShame / #Hooptober Progress
- Shocker (1989) //
Prior Hooptober/31 Days of Horror Lists on Letterboxd.com: 2015 / 2016 / 2017 / 2018
I always have a healthy stable of unwatched horror films at my disposal because I end up buying horror movies all year but waiting for the Hooptober binge. It’s not a healthy moviewatching model. I always try to include as many first-time watches as possible, but old favorites always find a way into the mix because sometimes you need to watch The Mummy for the 14th time, like being wrapped in warm blankets (inside a sarcophagus). Last year my daughters became obsessed with Abbott and Costello so we binged all of the Meet the Monsters films. They weren’t on the original agenda, but Hooptober requires spontaneity and the ability to pivot… or at least the understanding that I’ll be laying awake in bed some night without my Hooptober stack handy and surely there’s a horror movie laying around here somewhere (probably a Universal horror collection).
I’m also continuing my year-long #Watch1989 Movie Marathon throughout Hooptober. There’s no rest for #Watch1989. That accounts for the mass numbers of films from 1989 that don’t fit the Cinemonster’s 2019 Hooptober agenda. After watching 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 Hooptober / 31 Days of Horror 2019 demonic hurdles, courtesy of The Cinemonster. Here’s the original post on Letterboxd.com.
Cinemonster’s Hooptober 6/6/6 Guidelines:
CATEGORY// followed by my entries satisfying the criteria
Mexico, U.S., U.K., Russia, France, Italy, Yugoslavia(!)
30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s, 10s
6 FILMS BEFORE 1966//
The Mummy, Two Monks, The Bride of Frankenstein, Captive Wild Woman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us, A Bucket of Blood
6 FILMS WITH YEARS ENDING IN 6//
Dracula: Prince of Darkness, Blood Bath, The Tenant, Eaten Alive, Friday the 13th Part 6, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon
6 FILMS FEATURING WORK FROM: John Carl Buechler,
Jack Pierce, Rob Bottin, Screaming Mad George, Lon Chaney
and Carlo Rambaldi//
The Mummy, Captive Wild Woman, Bride of Frankenstein, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Friday the 13th Part VII, Four Flies on Grey Velvet
6TH FILM IN FRANCHISE//
Friday the 13th Part 6
REPTILE RAMPAGE (TRIBUTE TO CRAWL)//
2 WOMEN DIRECTED FILMS//
Pet Sematary, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, Blood Bath
LOWEST RATED UNSEEN FILM FROM THE 80s//
Jaws, The Revenge
CHURCHGOERS HAVING A BAD DAY//
LARRY COHEN OR DICK MILLER FILM//
A Bucket of Blood
1 CLASSIC UNIVERSAL//
The Mummy, The Bride of Frankenstein, Captive Wild Woman, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Revenge of the Creature, The Creature Walks Among Us
1 DEE WALLACE//
1 FILM WITH A BLACK DIRECTOR OR CAST (NO JORDAN PEELE)//
1 FILM FROM A MEXICAN DIRECTOR (NO GDT)//
Two Monks (Dos Monjes)
1 TOBE HOOPER//
***FOR THOSE THAT LIKE TO DO EXTRA WORK: WATCH Horror Noire and Innocent Blood***
-review them all.(eek)
Clearly one film can satisfy multiple criteria. Viewing and reviewing will begin at 12:01am CST on Sept 15th.
31 Days of Horror 2019 Roster
I plan to call some audibles when spur-of-the-moment cravings strike, but here’s my blueprint for the 31 Days Of Horror 2019 CinemaShame/Hoop-Tober Watch Pile Shame-a-Thon.
Past #31DaysOfHorror Shame-a-thons: 2013 | 2014 | 2015 Part 1 | 2015 Part 2 | 2016 | 2017 | 2018
The Mummy (1932)*
Two Monks (1934)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1935)*
Captive Wild Woman (1943)
Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)*
Revenge of the Creature (1955)
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956)
A Bucket of Blood (1959)
Dracula: Prince of Darkness (1966)*
Blood Bath (1966)
The Blood Rose (1970)
Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)
All the Colors of the Dark (1972)
The She-Butterly (1973)
The Tenant (1976)
Eaten Alive (1976)
Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (1985)
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986)
Jaws: The Revenge (1987)
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988)
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
The Church (1989)*
Pet Sematary (1989)
House III: The Horror Show (1989)
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)
A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Child (1989)
Innocent Blood (1992)*
Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006)
A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (2014)
Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019)
What’s your list? What’s your plan for horror movie watching this year? If you’re keeping a list or participating in the Hooptober 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 losers knocked off in the first act to establish the killer’s indomitable menace. It’s more comforting to know you’re not doing this alone.
Movies provide a home even when home is absent… or merely displaced.
After I moved from a small farming community outside Kalamazoo, MI to Detroit, MI in August of 1990, I began the tradition of going to a movie on my birthday. This became a yearly ritual for a couple of reasons. The easy answer was that for the first time, we lived mere minutes away from a theater. Hitting up a last-minute movie finally wasn’t an ordeal.
That little farm community in southwest Michigan resided 20 minutes from the nearest theater, a single-screen second-run movie house in Paw Paw. Detroit, meanwhile, offered theaters around every corner. It felt that way to me, anyway. I lived within walking distance of the Woods 6 on Mack Ave. and slightly beyond walking distance to the mall multiplex in Harper Woods. Most immediately, however, the tradition began in 1990 because — to borrow some fresh lines from the Prince of Bel-Air — my whole world got flip turned upside down.
In my first weeks attending this new Grosse Pointe prep-school, I wasn’t just known as “the new kid.” That would have been blissfully prosaic because I just wanted to disappear. Instead I was known as “the new kid… from Kalamazoo who lived in a motel.” Kids wouldn’t know my name, but they knew my place of origin and current, unfortunate residence. Yes, my parents and I lived in a motel. I had danishes and orange juice every morning from the motel bar/restaurant. I supposed I should just be grateful it wasn’t a Continental Breakfast. After this motel, we would move into a rectory for another month before our legitimate home was made ready for inhabitance. (Remind me to tell you the story about the time a woman started screaming at my mom using all sorts of colorful holier-than-thou language outside the church because she assumed we were the priest’s mistress and illegitimate son. Actually, I guess I just did.)
Back to that very prestigious private school in Grosse Pointe. I got in, despite my humble origins, because my dad knew someone who knew someone and apparently I aced the entrance exam. Gargantuan white columns, marble steps, and blue-bloods in pastel shirts graced with ponies as far as the eye could see. We certainly didn’t have prep-school kind of money — it wasn’t until later that I recognized the sacrifices my parents made so I could go to a school that didn’t have shootings. (My dad managed the Detroit Zoo and therefore had to live within the city limits). At the Detroit Public School I would have attended, gunmen walked in off the street and starting shooting kids in the hallway in 1992.
Suffice to say, with my 12th birthday falling on September 13th, 1990, only the second week into my new school nightmare, I felt completely and totally alone. Every day for at least a week, I begged not to go to school and cried in the car at drop-off. I was not, as they say, “pulling it together” exactly, but my mother knew how difficult the whole move had been for me. I’d even been excited about it. I desperately wanted to live in a real city and leave Marcellus (population around 2000) in my rear-view, but the overall experience had been more inviting in theory.
I came home that birthday Thursday and my mom told me to pick a movie from the paper. (Darkman, obviously.) I’d never been exposed to such spontaneity! Such flaunting of the expected homework duties! For those 100 minutes tucked away in a darkened theater, I was exactly where I needed to be. I can’t say that the movie fixed all that ailed me, because I was, after all, now 12 years old. Everything seems broken at 12, no matter where or who you are, but that movie put me in the right direction. Each subsequent day seemed a little bit brighter than the one before.
The theater had always been my safe space and when I was younger, it really didn’t matter what was in theaters — there were always marginally comfortable seats and popcorn and light and shadow projected onto a big silver screen. The tradition of the birthday movie endured without interruption until 2004 — after a 2003 birthday movie finally broke my spirits.
In celebration of this tradition, I’ve ranked every one of my birthday movies from 1990 until 2003. It’s entirely solipsistic (but it’s my birthday and I can wax nostalgic if I want to) and the listed movies are really only connected because of their general mid-September release dates — but then again, this list will still seem more relevant than whatever Buzzfeed slopped on the table today like Tuesday’s green bean casserole.
Going to the theater isn’t just a frivolous activity. The theatrical experience provides a respite from anything and everything that prevents you from enjoying your current lot in life. For just a moment, the rest of the world melts away and all that’s left are those flickering images projected three-stories high. Especially in 2019 with our constant connectivity, there are so few respites from the everyday cacophony. Embrace the experience as the curation of mental health. Even the worst movies (especially the worst movies?) contribute to the necessary understanding that this too shall pass, but there will always be another movie.
14. Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (2002)
Right out of college, I wrote movie reviews for a tabloid publication in Atlanta. As the newest movie critic in a team of three, I often received the worst assignments and no assignment during this tenure was worse than a press screening of Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever on my birthday. Among the dozens of reviews I wrote for InSite Magazine, it stands as my only “F” graded film. When anyone asks about the worst film I’ve ever seen, my mind immediately recalls this torturous experience. Roger Ebert thought so, too.
13. Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)
Thanks to Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever, this, the movie that broke the birthday tradition didn’t even rank as the worst. Allow me to set this scene. For months I’d looked forward to the release of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. My love of El Mariachi and Desperado fueled all kinds of desperation for this movie. My wife and I had just moved to Cambridge, MA. In the move, we’d lost some shelves or shelving brackets — honestly I have no idea what we needed anymore. The movers screwed up and we were in need of some pieces to pieces of furniture. The store at which we needed to procure said components was somewhere near Braintree, MA. The plan: we’d hit up the store and then head to the theater to catch OUATIM because birthday movie. Our Mapquest-printed directions got us lost on our way to the furniture store and then we couldn’t find the theater. We stopped to ask three or four different people who gave us contradictory directions. We missed the movie, returned home, ate Thai food, and went to a late show around Cambridge. The food stunk (we never at there again) and the movie lacked any of the showmanship or tone of its predecessors. The whole day turned out to be a fracas I’ll never forget. How could this movie have been so bad?
12. Rock Star (2001)
Silly and forgettable beats “worst movie I’ve maybe ever seen” and “crushing disappointment.” Marky Mark’s hair, however, remains a monumental achievement.
11. Stigmata (1999)
This Jerry Bruckheimer-produced thriller about a Pittsburgh hairdresser (Patricia Arquette) who becomes afflicted with a stigmata after getting her hands on a cursed rosary gave me the giggles in 1999 and I’m entirely confused about how it earned $50million in domestic box office. I got shushed for laughing at the “serious” bits about Catholicism and I still worry about the people who try to appreciate this film without irony.
10. Maximum Risk (1996)
Jean-Claude Van Damme made a fine living releasing movies in September during the 1990s. Maximum Risk co-starred Species‘s Natasha Henstridge and fell at the tail end of peak-JCVD actioners. Directed by Hong Kong action maestro Ringo Lam, Maximum Risk delivered on a few gonzo set-pieces, but relied too much on car chases and not enough on the physical prowess of the Muscles from Brussels.
9. Doc Hollywood (1991)
Amiable+ Michael J. Fox rom-com-dram in which the titular Doc is headed to Beverly Hills to become a plastic surgeon for the stars but finds himself waylaid in rural North Carolina when his Porsche swerves to avoid a car and hits a fence. I expected more laughs out of this movie at 13, but while I was disappointed in the moment, I grew to enjoy the film more on home video once I didn’t feel like the victim of a vicious bait-and-switch.
8. Rounders (1998)
Janet Maslin called John Dahl’s Rounders “mischievously entertaining” and I can’t do better than that in a short blurb. In 1998 we were on the cusp of the fairly bizarre poker boom. Everyone tried to play poker and the television broadcast poker, shows about poker, celebrity poker tournaments. Matt Damon and Edward Norton brought solid poker faces, but it’s really Malkovich’s movie. Even in a supporting role as Teddy KGB, he steals the show.
7. The Game (1997)
People love The Game. I love Michael Douglas and David Fincher, but I just don’t love The Game. I saw this during the first month of my first semester in college. Again I struggled with identity in a foreign land, aka Atlanta. I dragged friends in my hall to all manner of movies during Freshman year. If I’m not mistaken The Game was the first such off-campus sojourns via public bus transportation. Though I’m not convinced that the tangled machinations of Fincher’s plot hold up upon repeat viewings, I remember vividly that The Game, like that first birthday movie seven years prior, helped establish steps toward normalcy as I started to explore the city and realize that life still existed outside the campus bubble.
6. Timecop (1994)
High-concept time-traveling Jean-Claude Van Damme might be the best Jean-Claude Van Damme. Plus Mia Sara! That this movie isn’t more highly ranked on this list speaks to the quality and lasting appeal of my other birthday movies rather than any particular failing on Timecop‘s part. I would return to see this one more time in theater.
5. Almost Famous (2000)
I was not able to attend Almost Famous on my birthday night, but managed a trip during the following weekend. The film was still in limited release and I put a hold on my birthday movie trip because I was absolutely 100% positive that Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous would speak to me in the same way that Say Anything… had caused me to model my teenage personality around Lloyd Dobbler. I was not wrong, but the movie required some gestation. I came to love Almost Famous, which explains, perhaps, why it ranks merely 5th on the birthday movies countdown. That original theatrical experience doesn’t resonate like any of the Top 4.
4. Hackers (1995)
I challenge anyone to name a movie that is more 90s than Hackers. Electronic music. Wall-to-wall computer jargon and computer-generated representations of bits and bytes flowing through the tunnels of technology. Johnny Lee Miller. The clothes. The hair. The sunglasses. The swimming pool on the roof. Still, real hackers love Hackers, so I feel like that’s a legit seal of approval. Hackers remains one of the purest cinematic experience of my life, a movie so rooted in artificiality that the experience of plugging into the movie severs connection with the outside world. Hackers might not a great movie, but it is pure joy, pure nonsense, pure escapism. What more could I want on the day I turned 17?
3. Darkman (1990)
September 13th, 1990. The movie that provided a measure of belonging in my strange new world was, fittingly, a Sam Raimi superhero movie about a scarred and bandaged man who gains super-human abilities alongside psychotic episodes. Could have been me, minus the bandages and special abilities. It was the ultimate outsider-looking-in movie. Having failed to acquire the rights to adapt The Shadow, Sam Raimi (also, famously, a Michigander) developed a new superhero based on themes and images culled from the Universal horror movies.
It was Raimi’s first big-budget Hollywood feature after working for a decade on the furthest fringes of the independent landscape. I believed at the time that Raimi must have felt alien, just like me, taking that Hollywood plunge into a big budget $16 million action movie. For a short time, Darkman became the most important movie in my life — and no small part of it was because I identified with the film and the filmmaker and already had an original Evil Dead poster on my wall.
2. Sneakers (1992)
If you saw Sneakers in the theater in 1992, you shared a singular experience with dozens of other humans. I can almost 100% guarantee that no one walked out of Phil Alden Robinson’s (Field of Dreams) caper comedy feeling blue. It’s the kind of twisty movie that entertains so thoroughly that you’re unwilling or unable to see where the story will go next. I’d forgotten that this had been a birthday movie until I put together the pieces of this list. I don’t know if I should write that off as the failings of memory or a result of watching this VHS on a loop.
1. True Romance (1993)
Movies didn’t look like this, talk like this, or sound like this in 1993. Quentin Tarantino’s voice filtered through Tony Scott’s lens. True Romance represents an extraordinary confluence of style and substance. It also took just the right actors at just the right time to bring True Romance to life. Beyond Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette and the unworldly Gary Oldman villainy, the cast list reads like an All-Star cast of the mid-90s. Even though Reservoir Dogs had initiated a tonal shift, True Romance brought that independent spirit to big budget entertainment. It’s easy to point to Pulp Fiction as a movie that changed the course of cinema — but True Romance opened the gates. It’s a movie that feels just as fresh and offbeat as it did in 1993.
In yesterday’s post I picked 12 Essentials from the Twilight Time sale and I happened to included a few of the 20th Century Fox catalog titles. I won’t repeat those in today’s list because 1) you’ve already heard me wax effusive about them and 2) I get to pick more movies that I like. Therefore, in today’s post I definitely won’t mention Stormy Weather, Two for the Road, The Bravados, or Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? other than to say that you should most definitely stop what you’re doing and place an order that includes Stormy Weather, Two for the Road, The Bravados, and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?
I should also mention that none of us know for sure what Disney will do with the 20th Century Fox catalog titles. I wrote about my thoughts in this post, but we’re all playing a wait and see game. It would surprise no one if these titles never appeared on another form of physical media. For anyone that rightly distrusts those gatekeepers promising “everything available all the time” this is no doubt disconcerting because their “everything” does not consist of the mid-century classics that make up 90% of the Twilight Time catalog.
Remember sale prices are ongoing through the month of September and most titles are available at both ScreenArchives.com and Twilight Time — but some are only available at ScreenArchives.com.
Keep in mind that I’m just one guy and I haven’t seen all of the 20th Century Fox movies in this catalog — so I’m likely missing some gems. If you have a surefire recommendation leave it in the comments or hit me up at @007hertzrumble on Twitter and I’ll broadcast it to the Twatterverse.
12 (more) 20th Century Fox Titles Worth Picking Up from the Twilight Time sale
A dream blends into nightmarish reality as Miranda Wells (Gene Tierney) movies to New York to live with her rich cousin. The Tierney and Vincent Price combination doesn’t sound natural on paper, but handsome 1940’s Vincent Price has charm, pizazz, and an undercurrent of something nefarious. This is gothic fare of the highest order and reminds immediately of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca. Who needs soft focus when you have Gene Tierney?
The Snake Pit (1948)
Also available on an Indicator series Blu-ray in the UK. You might call her Queen O. Or Her Highness Livvy of Havilland. It doesn’t much matter how you worship, but worship you shall. Olivia de Havilland’s a force of nature as a disoriented woman who finds herself in a mental hospital with no explanation and no memory of her new husband. Dr. Kik works with her to unlock memories through electro-shock therapy. The suppressed memories come trickling out, building suspense and keeping the viewer guessing. A potent time capsule of our unfortunate views on mental illness.
Inferno 3D/2D (1953)
An alcoholic millionaire (Robert Ryan) breaks his leg falling off his horse and is left to die by his philandering wife (Rhonda Fleming) and her lover (William Lundigan). Ryan’s at the peak of his powers. This story about survival against the odds takes place amidst immaculate desert landscapes and Rhonda Fleming’s highly articulate eyebrows. If you have the ways and means, view the 3D version, but if you don’t the 2D will do just fine.
Don’t Bother to Knock (1954)
And speaking of Roy Ward Baker… I caught Don’t Bother to Knock on TCM last year expecting a silly little one-note thriller notable for being an early dramatic vehicle for Marilyn Monroe. This hotel-bound melodrama gripped me from reel one. Richard Widmark plays Jed, a skeezy airline pilot (Widmark can’t not skeeze) trying to get some rest in a hotel when a young woman catches his eye — she’s babysitting for a wealthy couple, but he’s not so sure she’s exactly capable. Monroe shows great range, the film always feels off-kilter, and you won’t worry about predicting where it’ll end up.
I could try to sell with the story or Edward Dmytryk or 2.35 : 1 Deluxe color cinematography — but instead I’ll just list the cast and let you ponder things. Richard Widmark (again!). Henry Fonda. Anthony Quinn. Dorothy Malone. Deforest Kelly. Richard Arlen. Frank Gorshin. You want to see this movie now, don’t you? Naysayers would call this a generic genre film, I’d call this an old-fashioned star-fueled Western saga about a weary town turning to hired guns for salvation — a year before the release of The Magnificent Seven.
I chose this spy-oriented thriller over the (at times overly) languid The Quiller Memorandum because this is a movie that not even genre aficionados have heard about. And truth be told, I only watched this because someone pestered me for a month. Director Bernhard Wicki’s (The Longest Day) Morituri features surprisingly layered performances from Marlon Brando and Yul Brynner and Conrad Hall B&W cinematography. When you think the movie’s going to ride the standard wartime narrative, it becomes something more interesting — a character study aboard a grim, claustrophobic merchant ship that manipulates its inhabitants like a puppetmaster.
The story of the hapless schmuck who sells his soul to the devil for seven wishes he uses to woo the beautiful Raquel Welch. This Dudley Moore / Peter Cook classic necessitates viewing on Blu. Who knew this film could look so vibrant? (Though Adam Tyner at DVDTalk.com raised questions about a possible stretching situation.) Bedazzled remains an essential — albeit one constructed more like a sketch-show than a cohesive feature film. The schtick works for the old comedy team of Moore and Cook and this is one Twilight Time disc fans of British comedy shouldn’t be without.
The Incident (1967)
The tagline for Larry Peerce’s subway-bound thriller is “Hits like a switchblade knife!” — which causes me to think about West Side Story gangs throwing switchblades jabs in between jetes. Then of course there’s the reality of this gritty psychological drama about two thugs terrorizing a subway train. Martin Sheen makes his screen debut as one of the two hellraisers aiming to make your blood boil — and boil it will.
Pretty Poison (1968)
Only in the 1960s did studios dare to release a pop-art rom-com psychological thriller that’s as much Psycho as it is Bye Bye Birdie. Anthony Perkins convinces a smalltown girl (a radiant Tuesday Weld) that he’s a secret agent. He’s not, of course, and that sets this movie off in all kinds of surprising directions.
Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976)
Paul Mazursky doesn’t always get the love he deserves because he directs low-key dramedies about fully formed human characters. His movies feel nostalgic and ponderous about the crazy human condition. Speaking of craziness, this story about an aspiring Jewish actor that moves to bohemian Greenwich Village in 1953 features Shelley Winters, Christopher Walken, Bill Murray, Lois Smith, and Jeff Goldblum among many other familiars. A wonderful card to have in your back pocket for “Six Degrees.”
Black Widow (1987)
You might have expected the 1954 Film Noir Black Widow, but no! That’s a fine but unexceptional entry in the canon. Meanwhile this Black Widow from 1987 boasts Debra Winger and Theresa Russell playing a wicked game of cat and mouse — plus appearances by Dennis Hopper, Nicol Williamson, and Lois Smith (again!). Starts slow and probably needed a stronger finale — and yet this oh-so-80’s entry entertains due to the strength and screen presence of its two female leads.
Rapid Fire (1992)
Sure — this is just another 1990s actioner, but it’s the final Brandon Lee actioner before an on-set accident on The Crow cut his life tragically short. Rapid Fire dispenses with downtime and just serves martial arts and shoot-em-up set pieces. This movie is pure disposable fun — and Power Boothe villainy! — and I’m still shocked someone had the wherewithal to release this gem on Blu-ray. Hopefully Brandon Lee’s oeuvre gets another wave of appreciation.
The master list of EVERY Fox-distributed Twilight Time title currently in print!
(Italics denotes titles on my short list for my highest recommendation. Titles listed in order of Twilight Time release.)
Violent Saturday (1955) – DVD
Woman Obsessed (1959) – DVD
Beloved Infidel (1959)
Royal Flash (1975)
The Vanishing (1993)
Flaming Star (1960)
Stormy Weather (1943)
April Love (1957)
The Best of Everything (1959)
Black Widow (1987)
Broken Lance (1954)
The Detective (1968)
From the Terrace (1960)
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)
Garden of Evil (1954)
Panic in Needle Park (1971)
The Gang’s All Here (1943)
Tony Rome / Lady in Cement (1967 / 1968)
Pretty Poison (1968)
The Keys of the Kingdom (1944)
Two for the Road (1967)
Kiss of Death (1947)
Peyton Place (1957)
How to Steal a Million (1966)
Inferno 3D/2D (1953)
Hell and High Water (1954)
State Fair (1962)
The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
Beneath the 12-Mile Reef (1953)
Captain From Castille (1947)
Doctor Doolittle (1967)
Forever Amber (1947)
My Cousin Rachel (1952)
The Incident (1967)
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds (1972)
The Seven-Ups (1973)
Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)
No Down Payment (1957)
Blue Denim (1959)
Next Stop Greenwich Village (1976)
Hilda Crane (1956)
My Gal Sal (1942)
Let’s Make Love (1960)
The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956)
Cinderella Liberty (1973)
Rapid Fire (1992)
The Hot Rock (1972)
The Other Side of Midnight (1977)
The Bravados (1958)
Black Widow (1954)
The Adventures of Hajji Baba (1954)
The True Story of Jesse James (1957)
Satan Never Sleeps (1962)
A Man Called Peter (1955)
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
The River’s Edge
The Quiller Memorandum (1966)
Three Coins in the Fountain (1954)
The Snake Pit (1948)
Pin Up Girl (1944)
Mother Wore Tights (1947)
Hello, Frisco, Hello (1943)
Ten North Frederick (1958)
The President’s Lady (1953)
The Chairman (1969)
Wild in the Country (1961)
The Tall Men (1955)
Throughout the month of September, Twilight Time is offering a sale on all but its most recent titles. If you’re unfamiliar with its business model, Twilight Time wooed studios that were hesitant to allow the distribution of their catalog by third party distributors by capping the total available units of each title to 3,000. Nick Redman and Brian Jamieson began operation as Twilight Time in 2011 to tap into classic films from the back catalogs of major studios. Of their mission, Jamieson said, “Twilight Time will be serving both the collectible drive of film enthusiasts, and, in a larger sense, the cause of cinema literacy.”
Redman and Jamieson brokered their first deal of 20 catalog titles with 20th Century Fox, and Fox has long been a major supplier of essential Twilight Time releases. This led me to put my concerns about Disney’s acquisition of Fox on paper in this post from two days ago.
After the passing of Nick Redman earlier this year, fans of the label were concerned about Twilight Time’s future. Not only was he responsible for bringing the titles to Blu-ray but he also appeared on dozens of commentary tracks. The Disney deal further clouds Twilight Time’s future in the minds of fans and physical media enthusiasts. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if we never see any of Twilight’s Time Fox titles on DVD/Blu-ray again. Once these titles sell out, they’re probably gone for good. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the Twilight Time essentials you should consider picking up during this latest and greatest sale.
Twilight Time titles can be purchased through Screen Archives and the Twilight Time page. (Domestic shipping is slightly cheaper through Twilight Time but more titles remain available at Screen Archives.) I’ll start with my Top 11 12 Essentials (studio not considered) and focus specifically on 20th Century Fox offerings later.
Top 12 Twilight Time Sale Recommendations
(* denotes 20th Century Fox title)
A 20th Century Fox property with only limited copies available. This 1943 musical with an African-American cast is based on the life of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and features performances from Robinson, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway and Fats Waller. Fred Astaire said that the “Jumpin’ Jive” dance sequence was the greatest movie musical number he had ever seen. Stormy Weather will make you lament Hollywood never made twenty movies just like it.
Beat the Devil (1954)
This off-kilter black comedy-adventure starring Humphrey Bogart, Peter Lorre, Robert Morley, Gina Lollobrigida, and Jennifer Jones is really just a showcase for personality. Everything goes deliciously wrong for this cast of liars, thieves and scoundrels. Long available only on tragically unwatchable prints, this Twilight Time edition restores lost footage and marks a drastic improvement over the Film Foundation Blu-ray released in 2016.
Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? (1957)
Based on the successful Broadway play by George Axelrod, this satire starring Jayne Mansfield, Tony Randall, Joan Blondell (and many others, including a cameo from Groucho Marx), Frank Tashlin’s film skewers fan culture, advertising, and the Hollywood hype machine. Blessed with a bevy of comic talent and timing, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? is a heady movie with plenty of laugh-out-loud set pieces.
This underseen 20th Century Fox western stars Gregory Peck as a solemn and nearly silent rancher pursuing a gang of four outlaws that he believes murdered his wife six months earlier. Also featuring Lee Van Cleef, Henry Silva, Stephen Boyd, and Joan Collins. Director Henry King shot the film with Leon Shamroy in CinemaScope and the film makes the most of its gorgeous Mexican setting.
After a quick sell out during its first run, Twilight Time brought John Frankenheimer’s adventure thriller back for an encore performance. Burt Lancaster is a workaday World War II-era trainman charged with preventing a cargo-load of irreplaceable French art is not allowed to leave the country for Germany. Beautiful Jean Tournier black and white cinematography and Maurice Jarre score.
Two For the Road* (1967)
The romantic highs and lows and everything in between. Mark (Albert Finney) and Joanna (Audrey Hepburn) take annual road trips through France and the film assembles these trips non-linearly in order to tell the story of how the couple met through present day bitterness. In his commentary for the film, Stanley Donen mentioned that couples often tell him that this movie caused them to get married — but just as many say that it caused them to divorce. Bonus: Henry Mancini score and Maurice Binder title design.
Fat City (1972)
John Huston directed this naturalistic neo-noir boxing drama that might just be the American classic you’ve never seen. An alcoholic past-his-prime boxer Billy Tully (Stacy Keach) wants to get back into fighting form and spars with an up-and-coming 18-year-old kid named Ernie (Jeff Bridges). Billy puts Ernie in touch with his manager and expects the kid to rocket to stardom. Shot by Conrad L. Hall, the film’s unglamorous visuals mirror the state of its characters. This movie could easily be interpreted as a reflection of the Hollywood career of John Huston (who was also a former boxer) who, by this point in his career, had been put out to pasture by the Hollywood gatekeepers.
The Hot Rock* (1972)
A personal favorite heist comedy features 1972 Robert Redford, George Segal and Zero Mostel and was curiously not a success when it was released. Lighthearted and driven by a painfully clever William Goldman screenplay, The Hot Rock should be a considered a classic of the genre. The film boasts not just one big caper — but four(!) because the characters keep bungling the job. Director Peter Yates considered this one of hist best movies and superior to his driveaway success, Bullitt.
Theatre of Blood (1974)
Because @HouseofGlib says so. Also, I thought this was sold out and omitted it from my first list. Essential Vincent Price horror comedy that features Price as a humiliated actor seeking revenge upon the critics who failed to see his genius. Diana Rigg considers this her best film! The pure joy of watching Vincent Price merge Shakespeare and bloody Phibesian revenge is a gift that keeps on giving.
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) – only available at Screen Archives
Sam Peckinpah at his most raw, nihilistic, poetic and unrelenting. This is another former TT sell-out title that’s been brought back because people need to see this movie. Almost universally panned at the time of its release, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia has been reassessed in recent years. A sometime piano player (Warren Oates) and his lover (Isela Vega) discover one last chance for happiness, but that happiness slips through the fingers and leaves Bennie a shell of a man, determined to make good on promises of revenge that he doesn’t know he can keep.
Melvin and Howard (1980)
Howard Hughes (Jason Robards) loses control of his motorcycle, crashes in the Nevada desert. A nobody by the name of Melvin Dummar (Paul Le Mat) stops his pickup to pee and finds a disheveled stranger lying by the side of the road. Refusing to go to the hospital that stranger accepts a ride and travel-time conversation. Melvin encourages his passenger to join him in singing a Christmas song he wrote. The stranger has Melvin sing his favorite song “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Melvin drops his charge at the Desert Inn and does not reveal his identity. Some years later, a limousine stops at Melvin’s service station and hands over a copy of Howard Hughes’ last will and testament naming Melvin a beneficiary. No one believes Melvin and soon he becomes part of a media circus. Now that I’ve told you the plot, I’ll also tell you that none of it really matters because Melvin and Howard is first and foremost a beautiful character study from Jonathan Demme. Headlined by Mary Steenburgen’s Oscar-winning performance, the film’s a surprising and understated gem of a movie.
Cutter’s Way (1981)
Let’s add some more Jeff Bridges to this list. Another movie long overdue for elevation into the status of American classic. Panned and praised at the time of its release, Cutter’s Way features standout performances from Bridges and the always reliable John Heard. Czech New Wave writer/filmmaker Ivan Passer worked along Milos Forman on films like Loves of a Blonde (1965) and The Fireman’s Ball (1967) before defecting to the U.S. The financial failings of Cutter’s Way likely derailed his post-Czech New Wave career. This subtle, cynical, character-driven masterpiece reflecting the disillusionment of the post-Vietnam era deserves better.
(If I missed any of your essentials make sure to add them in the comments or holler at me @007hertzrumble)
The Snake Pit (1948)
Don’t Bother to Knock (1952)
Our Man in Havana (1959)
Hound of the Baskervilles (1959) – Screen Archives only
Underworld U.S.A. (1961)
The World of Henry Orient (1964)
The Chase (1966)
The Detective (1968)
Pretty Poison (1968)
Model Shop (1969)
Short Night of Glass Dolls (1971)
The Front (1976)
The Big Fix (1978) – never before released on DVD
Chilly Scenes of Winter (1979)
Black Widow (1987)
Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993)
Devil in a Blue Dress (1995)
Tune in tomorrow when I’ll highlight some 20th Century Fox titles that might warrant extra consideration.