Let’s Light This Sucker and Meet the Old Broads

There aren’t many films that I absolutely must watch at Halloween but Hocus Pocus certainly is one of them. I can’t remember the exact age I was when I first saw it but I was young and it’s been a tradition for me to watch ever since. The nostalgia factor is what’s given this film its incredible staying power after all. The film was a critical flop when it was first released in July of 1993 and opened against Free Willy so it was a commercial flop as well (but I mean, who’s surprised? Free Willy‘s a classic in its own right as well), yet, here we are, in 2018 and it’s impossible for a Halloween season to go by without the film airing on television or popping around you in some fashion. It’s a millennial’s Halloween treasure and after the grueling and grim watch of Se7en, I couldn’t be more delighted to shake off some of that residual tension and discomfort.

cauldron bubble

While I wouldn’t put them on the same level, just as Young Frankenstein would fall apart without Gene Wilder at the helm, Hocus Pocus just wouldn’t be the same without the Sanderson Sisters played by Kathy Najimy, Sarah Jessica Parker, and the always stunning Bette Midler.  These three ladies are the best part of this whole film. They land the comical moments with such ease and give us the most memorable lines of the film. Who can forget Sarah Jessica Parker’s excited bouncing and exclaiming “amok, amok, amok, amok!” or Bette Midler’s rendition of “I Put A Spell on You” or Kathy Majimy riding that vacuum cleaner as a broom? They might not be characters of particularly great depths but they’re fun and as charming as they are outrageous. Who else could make three murderous and evil witches seem so fun?

i love Billy

As far as the film itself goes though, it’s surprisingly bold for a Disney production. Originally created with the intention of airing as a Disney Channel Original, the film was given a theatrical release instead and its got a half a dozen sexual jokes, a somewhat predatory Sarah Jessica Parker, witchcraft, and witches who overall just delight in being evil.many photos Of course, good wins out in the end in true Disney fashion with plenty of ridiculous situations and lots of laughs along the way, but still….it’s a curious choice for Disney. Yet the family-friendly charm is in part what makes it such a treat to watch. Its got its inconsistencies — Winifred doesn’t know what a paved road is but she knows to ask Max if he has his learner’s permit? Odd. The story stumbles a bit in the latter half of the second act and loses some of its steam, but the final confrontation with the witches ends in a heartfelt conclusion. It’s not a true Disney film if it doesn’t make you feel good somehow, right?

Overall, the film’s such a fun time and full of our modern-day Halloween fun. I don’t know if I could pick a better film to capture the more lighthearted feeling the holiday has to it.

What I’ve Done Is Going to Be Puzzled over and Studied and Followed….Forever

I’ve been saving some of the best films for last here to really finish off this incredible month of films on a high note. Today, we’re taking a look at one of the best murder mystery detective films ever made, David Fincher’s Se7en. It’s been a while (like, best guess, five years) so rewatching this film was almost like seeing it for the first time except I already knew some of the parts. There were  also a couple of things I didn’t remember that horrified me all over again.

brad pitt's great

This two-hour film written by Andrew Kevin Walker does some incredible things. There’s only one scene where you see the violence committed and for a script about a grisly set of murders whose victims are all executed in line with their deadly sin that’s pretty rate. A retiring detective and a newbie are in a race to stop the killer before the mysterious John Doe can complete his mission but its difficult to stop a killer when you have no clues and no fingerprints. It’s like an avenging angel came down to punish humanity for their gluttony, lust, envy, pride, greed, wrath, and sloth. There’s no shortage of sinners according to John Doe.

not sorry

The film doesn’t offer you any further explanation of John Doe’s actions other than his intention to wipe the scum off of the earth which he explains in a rather incredible monologue. This film is an exploration of how the murders are done rather than trying to find a reason. Sure, there’s a reason but this isn’t some catch the killer and all is well type film. Se7en is a rumination on evil. Fincher once said he doesn’t make films that tell you everything is alright in the world because it’s not. He strives to make you feel uncomfortable, to make you realize there’s a darker side to everything. It’s hard to imagine people really need to be reminded about that in today’s climate but still….the film is incredibly effective.

foggy library

There’s a really interesting moment early on into the film when Detective Somerset (Morgan Freeman) says he doesn’t understand this city anymore. He doesn’t understand the criminals and the reason behind their violence. Crime has evolved and he’s struggling to catch up.  This idea of the evolution of crime reminds me of one of Fincher’s latest projects, the Netflix original series, Mindhunter. If you haven’t checked out Mindhunter you are missing out. It’s got a more subtle aesthetic than Se7en does but tackles so many of the same themes. It’s one of my favorite series for sure and I love the always topical conversation about the evolution of crime even during such different time periods.

this one's probably better

Se7en is a truly incredible film all around. With a story that unfolds and reveals information as the characters learn it, you feel as though you’re part of the story and that might just be one of the scariest aspects of the film. There’s nothing you can do to get ahead of the curve, you’re stuck going along for the ride. What makes this such a great choice especially for Halloween though is its intensely uncomfortable atmosphere that sticks with you even long after it’s over. True crime when done well on-screen can be incredibly scary. While I wouldn’t say I was scared by Se7en in the same way I’m terrified of films like The Conjuringthis one has a palpable impact.  Maybe watch this one and have a chaser ready like your favorite cartoon or something light and fun like The Addams Family or What We Do in the Shadows.

Stand Back, For the Love of God! He’s Got a Rotten Brain!

Of all the Mel Brooks films in the world, Young Frankenstein seems like the one that caters most to my interests. Before watching today’s pick, I had only seen Robin Hood Men in Tights (which I love), but for a film that’s a satire of the original horror movie classic, Frankenstein from 1931 and its subsequent sequels, this seemed like something I might enjoy. It was even turned into a Tony-nominated musical with Sutton Foster. I haven’t seen the musical yet either so I guess my not having watched this film is hardly shocking.

freshly dead

Even though I know you’re not surprised by this, I wasn’t in love with this film. You might think it’s just because I don’t appreciate comedy and satire the way most people I know do, but I feel a little more justified on this one because there are some definite weaknesses to the film. There are three major female characters in the film. One of them is as vain as they come and incredibly annoying (except the moment she dodges the kiss blown to her by Gene Wilder).  Sure, it’s cool Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn) later becomes the Bride of Frankenstein with that iconic hair, but up until that point, she’s just an uninteresting caricature. Opposite her, vying for Dr. Frederick Frankstein’s (Gene Wilder) affection is Inga (Terri Gar) whose sole purpose seems to be the butt of sexual-themed jokes. Not my favorite kinds of female characters who feel empty except for their stereotypes.  At least Cloris Leachman brings the intriguing Frau Blücher into the fold. She’s funny and seems to have a little bit more to her character than the others but she’s such a minor part in the film it’s disappointing not to get more of her.

defeated dr

The film has overall good pacing and story up until the musical number, “Puttin on the Ritz”, performed by Frankenstein and the Creature (Peter Boyle). Once this scene (and it’s a great one) is over, the story really loses its steam.  The idea of switching brains between Frankenstein and the Creature feels out of place, like a last minute idea to wrap up the story. The last act just doesn’t play nearly as well as the rest of the film. Perhaps some of these are the scenes that Mel Brooks added in so they could continue filming once everyone on set was bummed out principal photography was almost complete.

that's p cool

Even despite these missteps, the film does get some things right. In its emulation of the classic Frankenstein film, Mel Brooks went for a black and white film with lighting so similar to the old classics. There’s a lot of shots that mimic classic moments from films and that’s something to applaud. The transitions even seem like an old classic. The equipment used in the original film for Frankenstein’s Lab is recycled here in the film. Young Frankenstein engages its original source material in a fun and loving manner while also maintaining a satirical distance that allows it to poke its fun at the film and the genre.  There are some really fun scenes like when Frankenstein is upset his experiment failed so he tells his team (Igor and Inga) that they must take the loss with dignity then throws a tantrum. Abby Normal.  The musical number. Walk this way. Sed-a-GIVE?!

Gene Wilder gives an incredible performance in this film. I don’t know if I would say it a better performance than his beloved turn as Willy Wonka but he delivers some truly wonderful monologues throughout the film. He’s over the top in the best, old-timey films way that really works. Honestly, without Gene Wilder, this film would not be nearly as good as it is.



Men Don’t Just Get Into Window Seats and Die!

I’m not sure what I expected from Arsenic and Old Lace, but it certainly wasn’t this goofy comedy. Perhaps if I had known it was a Frank Capra film I would have watched it much sooner. Yet, here we are. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this film as much had I seen it before this month so maybe it all worked out in the end.

In case you haven’t seen the film, or the stage play it’s based on, this classic s about a particularly insane family: two homicidal aunts (Josephine Hill and Jean Adair), one drama critic (Cary Grant, who discovers their secret on the day of his wedding and the Karloff-esque creep (Raymond Massey) who crashes the special day. The film is full of hilarious moments, over the top acting, and even some spooky moments that make it a really delightful Halloween film. For added Halloween feels, it also takes place on the holiday itself.

doesn't that seem a lil spooky

If you’re wondering what such a frivolous and fun film is doing on my list of films to watch this month, rest assured, there’s plenty of Halloween spookiness to go around. Despite its light and fun beginning, even with the discovery the Aunts are killing lonely old men who come to their house to rent a room, the movie takes a turn once Jonathan Brewster arrives on the scene. An abusive man since childhood, Jonathan has become a criminal in his adult years and now that he’s on the run (and wearing a new face like Boris Karloff, who played the character on Broadway and gave Capra and the studio permission to use his likeness in the film), he’s dangerous to everyone in the film. Shot with low lighting, the film also has a distinct horror film look. The shadows create so much tension in scenes as well as the orchestral music. It’s a horror wrapped up in an otherwise cheeky comedy.

The film is also so well acted by its company of brilliant men and women. Though they’re not top billed,  Abby Brewster (Josephine Hull) and Martha Brewster (Jean Adair) are such an interesting pair to watch on screen. Though they’ve murdered twelve old men by the time we meet them, they have a genuine likeability to them. Perhaps its the little bounce in Abby’s step as she treads around the house after her latest kill or their insistence they are doing a kindness to the gentlemen they poison. The way they dress up for the funerals to give them a proper burial and their delight over the fact their latest was a Methodist.

On the exact opposite end of that spectrum, Raymond Massey gives a chilling performance as Jonathan Brewster. He had such a terrific quality about him that was chilling but still a sort of twisted fun character as well. When he’s talking to his plastic surgeon, Dr. Einstein (Peter Lorre) and he’s telling him what he wants done differently for his next face, he’s so matter of fact about it and I found that particularly amusing but then in one of the next scenes he’s reminding his brother that he used to put needles under his fingernails. The guy is a deadly cocktail of crazy on his own in a far more repulsive way than his similarly deranged Aunts.

um i love them

In the midst of all of this crazy is a love story between marriage cynic, Mortimer Brewster (Cary Grant), and the girl next door, Elaine Harper (Priscilla Lane). I loved watching their scenes together in particular, especially after they’ve gotten married and they’re chasing each other around the graveyard. They’re a lot of fun and their dynamic is so interesting. They’re also, of course, incredible on their own. When Mortimer first discovers there’s a body in the window seat, Cary Grant’s reaction is priceless. It’s so funny to watch and even though Grant didn’t like his performance in this film for being too over the top, I love it. It fits the almost cheesy nature of the film so well. Elaine brings this real purity to the film. She may be the only sane one in the whole story, but perhaps she’s her own kind of crazy? Crazy in love.

Oooh. That was a real bad joke. Sorry about that.  Still, my point is that the acting in this film is truly incredible. I love that some of the original Broadway cast members from the play reprised their role here including the twisted Aunts and their hysterical brother, Teddy Roosevelt Brewster (John Alexander). Fresh off their Broadway runs, these three bring the most subtle and level-headed performances to the screen but that doesn’t make them any less larger than life.

Overall, Arsenic and Old Lace is a truly delightful film to watch. It’s a great choice for the season but not so specific you won’t enjoy watching it all the other times of the year too. If you haven’t seen it, go out and find it because it’s truly a treat to watch. If you have seen it, what are you waiting for? Go watch it again!

I Go For a Look Which I Call “Dead, but Delicious”

Remember when I said I don’t really enjoy comedies back on my Shaun of the Dead post except for a few rare exceptions? I found another rare exception in the 2014 mockumentary about vampires from Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement who both wrote and directed this clever and delightful film, What We Do in the Shadows.

the family

After a somewhat disappointing experience with Shaun of the Dead, I was skeptical about watching another comedy this year that I hadn’t already seen previously, but I cannot overstate just how much I loved watching What We Do in the Shadows.  From those first few moments where we meet Viago (Taika Waititi) and he rises out of his coffin before nervously checking to make sure it truly is night time to the end sequence with werewolves and vampires under one roof, I was delighted at every turn.

This barely 90-minute film is a truly unique film and I can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it. That may be due to the fact that of the 125 hours of footage that was shot, most of it was improvised. The story was heavily scripted but the actual dialogue in the scenes? That’s all the host of actors bringing the colorful character to life from Taika and Jemaine’s imagination.

true heroes

The film explores what it’s like for a household of vampires in the modern day and the ways they resolve everyday problems like whose turn it is to clean the dishes, hitting up the best nightclubs in town, or how to keep the flat clean. It’s not your typical vampire fare but that’s what makes it so fun. Each of the vampires hearkens back to another legendary bloodsucker you’ve encountered before. Petyr (Ben Bransham) is the most easily recognizable with his pale white skin, pointed ears and frighteningly long teeth we see in Nosferatu.  Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is self-proclaimed as “Vladislav the Poker” which is a clear reference to a rumored vampire, Vlad the Impaler though he also a certain Dracula-like quality to him. Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is a rebellious vampire you might see in a film like The Lost Boys and finally, we have the most delightful character — Viago. Viago has an aristocratic charm about him that brings to mind Anne Rice’s beloved Lestat.  The way they interact with one another is so engaging and often times hilarious.

Viago is too precious

Their appearance and actions though are not the only callbacks to the vampires of old (pre-Twilight, I mean). They follow many of the rules from lore — they cannot go into the sunlight or they will catch fire, they cannot touch pure silver, or enter a building without being invited in. Each of these hurdles though is met with an oftentimes hilarious resolution. Some of my favorite moments include the drawings they do of each other to display what their outfits look like since they have no reflections, the procession of shame to punish Nick for accidentally leading a vampire hunter back to the flat, or Viago’s best attempt at keeping his lounge free of blood but nicks the main artery of his victim and sends of geyser of blood into the room.

It’s a really clever film and so much fun to watch. I can’t sing its praises enough. I’ve already watched it twice and am looking forward to watching it regularly perhaps just as a little pick me up; it’s so endearing! I love these characters every minute of the film, especially Viago.  What a treat this season to be introduced to one of my new favorite films!